Guest post by Will Sinsky:
In one day, it was over.
After national teams Nigeria and Algeria both placed second in their respective World Cup groups to advance to the round of 16, both were knocked out in quick succession at the hands of European powerhouses France and Germany, effectively ending Africa’s presence at the 2014 World Cup.
However, the tournament was not without success for Africa.
For the first time in its history, two of the continent’s five qualifying teams — Nigeria and Algeria, as mentioned above — advanced beyond the group stage. Furthermore, Ghana’s captain and star striker Asamoah Gyan scored his sixth World Cup goal in their final group stage match against Portugal, passing legend Roger Milla for the most career goals scored by an African in World Cup history.
But Gyan’s record and Nigeria’s and Algeria’s breakthrough were truthfully the only positive notes Africa can take from this World Cup. As the tournament progressed, a spell of controversies formed dark clouds over the CAF’s (Confederation of African Football) national teams. Rumors started to spread of Ghanaian and Nigerian players boycotting training sessions, among other acts, due to a delay in appearance fees, which even resulted in match-fixing allegations and an apparent scuffle in one of Ghana’s hotel rooms. Cameroon’s dispirited collapse against Croatia could be considered one of the continent’s ugliest performances in its history, and they too were accused of match-fixing. Finally, three African teams’ managers stepped down shortly after they were knocked out of the World Cup.
Africa is known in the soccer world for conceiving top tier players. Many of Africa’s stars, Gyan the only exemption, make their careers at popular clubs throughout Europe and the rest of the world, from the Ivory Coast’s Yaya Touré at the Premier League’s Manchester City and Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa at Russia’s CSKA Moscow to Ghana’s Kevin Prince Boateng at the German Bundesliga’s Schalke and Algeria’s Islam Slimani at Portugal’s famous Sporting Clube de Portugal.
Why, then, does Africa continue to struggle on the sport’s biggest stage? A rather uncomplicated resolution to this issue is discipline. As these players become superstars to the rest of the world, their national teams’ staffs back home don’t know how to control, let alone manage, rosters made up of players of that caliber. Manager Sabri Lamouchi, for example, had never been the boss of any soccer club before taking up the position in 2012 for an Ivory Coast squad loaded with icons the likes of Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, and Gervinho. Often these managers have shaky-at-best relationships with the countries’ governing soccer bodies.
The goal at the World Cup is simple; to prove your country’s supremacy in the world’s beautiful game. But one continent is often amalgamated in the media and public mind as an interwoven brotherhood of nations: Africa. I feel a majority of that public, myself included, want to see that unified fraternity succeed, and the media pushes that at times as well (the scene of Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o hugging a young, defeated Cameroon fan, prompting both to shed tears, was a touching moment).
Nevertheless, the continent’s 2014 World Cup campaign will in the end be seen as a failed yet valiant attempt sheathed by blurred shadows of the CAF’s flaws. The severe lack of continuity in managerial staff, an excess of corruption, and a shortage of discipline all contribute to this consistent disappointment.
While African soccer is growing, it is maturing slower than anticipated.
And fans of African teams can only hope their nations’ (soccer) leaders are watching and taking note when Argentina and Germany square off today.
Will Sinsky is an aspiring sports analyst/writer whose specialties are professional football and soccer. Follow him on Twitter @wsinsky