By Japheth Ogila
Published July 13, 2014
Though the world is focused on the final World Cup 2014 match between Germany and Argentina on July 13, 2014, the tournament ended in Africa before it began; Africa’s five representatives—Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria—were all bundled out of the event in the preliminary stage of the tournament that kicked off in Brazil on June 12, 2014.
Cameroon left the tournament without a single point after losing to Mexico, Croatia and Brazil.
Ivory Coast, Africa’s best ranked team—at position 23 worldwide—was eliminated by Greece as Ghana lost to both USA and Portugal.
Braver Algeria, a non sub-Saharan African team, beat South Korea 4:2, drew with Russia 1:1 and lost 2:1 to both Belgium and Germany before it exited the tournament.
This elimination that confirmed Africans as merely spectators and not players of football raises several questions, chief among which is: What’s ailing African soccer?
How does Africa expect its players to win matches against well prepared and highly motivated European and South American teams while it refuses to pay them? African players have to throw up tantrums for their allowances and fees to be paid by their national governments, football federations and football clubs.
Before the tournament kicked off in Brazil, Cameroon players were reported to have refused to board the plane to South America unless they were paid. Ghana had to fly US$3 million in cash from Accra to Brazil to placate players who had threatened to boycott a crucial match unless their appearance fees were settled. A similar scene was re-enacted in Nigeria where President Goodluck Jonathan Ebele had to persuade protesting players to the pitch after the football managers failed to pay them. Soon after being ignominiously ejected from Brazil, the government sacked the administrators of football for mismanaging soccer in the country.
Where on earth—except Africa!—do players have to bribe coaches in order to be selected to play for their countries?
Lack of discipline on and off the pitch is detrimental to African soccer. Alex Song was dismissed after hitting striker Mario Mandzukic in the full glare of the referee after Cameroon suffered a 4:0 defeat at the hand of Croatia. That Cameroonian left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto tried to head-butt Benjamin Moukandjou, a team-mate during the same match, also demonstrates lack of discipline and team spirit without which no team can win any match. Does it surprise anyone that Cameroon was ejected from the tournament after playing only two games?
A replay of some lapse in discipline was also witnessed when Ghanaian football officials expelled midfielders Kevin-Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari from the camp after Boateng swore at coach Kwesi Appiah as Muntari struck a football official.
Whereas some people may blame government interference in football management, the world’s football governing body, FIFA, may have just been a stumbling block in reforming the management of soccer on the mother continent.
FIFA has banned Nigeria from football after the government fired officials of the country’s football federation. As much as no government interference should be tolerated in soccer matters, some federations are run like political parties that hire and fire coaches, refuse to pay players and, generally, mismanage the affairs of football in their countries. Governments should be allowed to correct such anomalies. But FIFA won’t hear of it. Just ask Kenya whose football is run by a limited liability company and not a federation of associations what happened when the government tries to bring order to the sector. No wonder Kenya plays its own version of football that never sees it win regional and continental trophies.
Africa does not seem to treat football matters with the seriousness they deserve. African Cup of Nations may not be up to standard. Or how can one explain how Nigeria, the Confederation of African Football Cup champions, could be eliminated so easily in the preliminary group stages of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?