When the World Cup is awarded to the winning football team this coming weekend in South Africa, there will be many who will continue to argue that Africa was cheated out of the chance to advance to the finals when Ghana was denied a goal that was essentially a goal.
There will be many who will agonize about what could have beenâ€”perhaps if Ghanaâ€™s forward Asamoah Gyan had placed the penalty kick a bit lower, and not hit the crossbar, his team could have had a chance to shoot for the finals.
Perhaps if Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Kingson had been better prepared for a possible penalty shoot-out after overtime, he could have guaranteed his team a better deal than going to defeat against the cheating Uruguayan team.
But whatever armchair players will continue to say about the teams that Africa fielded in the World Cup, certain observations must be made. Foremost, there is no denying that African teams are much better than ever before.
Even before the first whistle was blown to start the tournament, some pundits had essentially written off some of the teams. South Africaâ€™s Bafana Bafana was supposed to fold like cardboard in the very first game it played against Mexico on June 11.
Instead the team that was written off did survive that opening match and fought to a draw. In fact, Bafana Bafana went on to humiliate former World Cup champion France on June 22 to a 2-1 defeat. Moreover, Bafanaâ€™s forward Katlego Mphela was elected Budweiserâ€™s Man of the Match. France was sent packing for good.
Secondly, even when they went down to early defeat as happened for South Africa, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Algeria, the African teams did not just lie down to be slaughtered by the juggernauts. For instance, Argentina which came to South Africa with all the bells and whistles as one of the favourite teams to win the tournament could only manage a lonely goal against Nigeria on June 12.
Nigeria also lost by a single goal against Greece, followed by a draw playing the determined South Korean team. Cameroon lost its games to opponents, however, it managed to score against the much stronger Denmark and the Netherlands, and when it lost, it was by a goal.
Algeria fought mighty England to a nil-nil draw, and like Cameroon, only lost each game by a single goal. Cote dâ€™Ivoire duelled Portugal to a draw, walloped North Korea three goals to nothing and conceded three goals to the big guns from Brazil but also got in a goal.
Thirdly, while most analysts focus only on the winning team, and there is nothing like being a winner, one must agree that given the disproportionate hurdles that they had to overcome such as chronic lack of funding, shorter training camps and so forth, the six teams from Africa did not do too badly.
In fact, looking at the African teams play stronger powerhouses like Brazil, Germany and Argentina, one got the distinct feeling that the Africans have achieved a certain level of international proficiency in their games. In other words, African players already know the game and can play it as well as the best of them from anywhere in the world.
They have better discipline, and a certain level of confidence playing football.What they desperately need is that final mental preparedness, the singular edge which allows them to believe that they are in it to win the cup itself. That was certainly the feeling one began to get the longer Ghanaâ€™s Black Stars stayed in the hunt to get into the semi-final game.
The team was cohesive, focused and with better control of the ball on the ground. They knew when to swamp the opponent, and when to fall back like waves of samurais to defend their goal lines. However, Uruguay which eventually won (and some would say because Luis Suarez cheated), had the edge and the audacity to play nasty when it served their purpose which was to advance at all cost.
That is what African players need to understand, namely, that they are playing soccer against teams that see nothing wrong by cheating, diving, and doing all sorts of shenanigan in order to advance.
Ghana may have played a clean and safe game, but Uruguay came with one thing in mind, and that was to win which they did on penalty shootouts. So, while it was a big heartbreak when the lonely Black Stars faded, Africa has a bright future in international football.
Already a number of the African players are stars in premier leagues in Europe. However, moving Africa to the level of confidence with which other teams play and in preparation for World Cup 2014 requires certain overhaul of the system.
First of all, the time has come for African teams to get rid of the notion that only a European or South American coach can do the job well. Ghanaâ€™s coach was Serbian, South Africa shelled out the big bucks to get a Brazilian, Cameroon nodded to France for a coach and both Cote dâ€™Ivoire and Nigeria gave the job to Swedish coaches.
Only Algeria stayed with an African coach in the person of Rabah Saadane. This is not to say that European coaches should not be hired to do the technical trainings. Rather, it is to argue that the head coaches must be Africans with complete loyalty and commitment to coach their teams to win.
Who could forget the image of Ghanaâ€™s coach Milovan Rajevac tearing away in anger when Ghana walloped his country 1-0. Here is a man who is being paid good money, who should be euphoric that his team came on top. Instead, he was angry at his team for beating the team from his country!
What nonsense is that? Secondly, African countries must invest huge sums of money into the game, develop new talents, train longer, and in fact, train with one thing and one thing onlyâ€”to win at the next World Cup tournament in Brazil.
In the meantime, the African teams that played at the World Cup 2010, and especially the Black Stars should hold their heads high; they did better than expected.
Africa has a bright future in international football