Let’s admit it, we are quite frankly, miles behind the rest of the world when it comes to development, technical ability, tactical discipline and awareness as well as physical prowess and if you still dream that Africa will win the World Cup in our lifetime, then dream on.
I humbly accept and respect Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, who once predicted that an African team would win the World Cup at the turn of the century. But that prediction now sounds hollow and as embarrassing as Pastor Idah Peterside’s prophesy that Argentina would win the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
We (Africans) have been fooled by the excellent individual performances of Sadio Mane (Senegal) and Mo Salah (Egypt) for their English Premier League side Liverpool and built unrealistic dreams that Russia would be the venue where the rest of the world would start to respect Africa.
The least said about the capitulation of all five African countries the better. The shockingly naïve manner in which African teams concede goals at this level leaves an awful lot to be desired. It was like watching a repetitive horror movie, with all five teams conceding in similar fashion.
It is a fact; we just cannot defend set pieces. We also fall asleep at crucial stages of a match. In addition, we seem unable to fashion the quickest way possible to the opposition goals. We dilly dally around the pitch; pass the ball sideways and crossways instead of going for the kill. And when we have a clear sight of the opposition goal, our attempts at goal scoring are embarrassing.
I am still haunted by the pitiful manner in which Senegal’s Idriss Gueye stood transfixed at his position on the goal line when Columbia scored in their final group match. In fact, to say he was focusing on the game would be a compliment! The man was busy posing for a selfie when Columbia registered the lone goal that knocked them out of the tournament.
I hear people trying to bring up racism, claiming African teams got the short end of the stick from referees and adding that some decisions, despite clear violation and evidence from the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), decisions went against Africa because we are Africans and my response is that it is all bull-crap.
The truth is that we lack the match intelligence to manage games. Nigeria were through to the knockout stages against Argentina with the score 1-1. What would an intelligent team have done, especially when you consider that there was five minutes remaining on the clock? An intelligent team would have closed shop, packed their rearguard and hoofed every ball into the grandstands.
Not Nigeria! They still wanted a toe-to-toe slugfest with Argentina and in the 86th minute, conceded a goal that knocked the stuffing out of their system when a minute earlier they had been assured of advancing to the knockout stage, now they suddenly found themselves packing their bags headed back to Lagos.
Mind you, it was not the first time this was happening at this level. They (Nigeria) committed similar hara-kiri in the United States during the 1994 Mundial when Emmanuel Emenike gave the Super Eagles the lead in the 25th minute. They were cruising to the last eight with FOUR minutes remaining when they went to sleep and Roberto Baggio leveled to take the match into extra time, where they lost the contest to the astute Italians.
Cameroon as far back as 1990 in Italy were leading England until the 83rd minute during the quarter-finals, and once again, our inability to fully concentrate at critical stages was exposed as they conceded a penalty that was cruelly and painfully tucked away by Gary Lineker and they went on to lose in extra time.
In the 2002 World Cup in Asia, Senegal lost in extra time to Turkey because one got the distinct impression through their body language that they were exhausted of taking part in the five week tournament and simply wanted to go home. Should I go on?
Where are the so-called Technical brains of African football that they cannot pinpoint our glaring deficiencies? Why is it that prior to every World Cup we approach it with confidence and yet leave with our tails between our legs long before the tournament has ended?
Yet we continue lobbying for additional slots in future World Cups and there are rumors that at the 2026 World Cup, Africa would be allowed either nine or 10 slots, an almost 50% increase to the current five. If we have not yet put our finger on why we consistently fail at the World Cup, heaven help Africa.
What have we learned in all the World Cup tournaments that we have participated in?