November 20, 2009

Can an African team really win the World Cup?

By Engerlund


Former AC Milan legend George Weah seems to think so. His remarks come after Ghana won the first ever Under 20’s World Cup last month – and I agree with him – but not this time around. Maybe in 2018…

Some will say that this is an African country’s best chance, only Brazil have won the World Cup outside their own continent.

Advantage of population size is certainly in Africa’s favour – an article by the UN has just revealed that over a billion people live on the continent – that’s 200 million more than Europe. And there is certainly no lack of passion for football – it is played all over the continent. But obviously, Africa is riddled with poverty, war and countless other problems and its sports facilities don’t even bear recognition to the ones here in Europe. Most kids have never even played on grass.

That is mainly why, when an African country produces a world-class footballer, they head straight for Europe. There have been many brilliant African players; Drogba, Eto’o, Roger Milla,  Jay-Jay Okocha, Adiba Pele and of course Weah himself to name but a few – all of them are playing or have played, for European teams. Who can blame them? Europe hosts the best club football in the world.

However, with a few exceptions, most of these players who make it big on the world stage stay in Europe and never go back to Africa to help the progression of the sport, or offer advice to up-and-coming talent. Perhaps that is why there has been a gulf in the difference of class between African teams and other top national sides.

But I think that is all about to change. With South Africa playing host to the World Cup and Angola staging the Africa Cup of Nations, there will be millions of young children who’ll benefit from getting the opportunity to use world class facilities.

But the huge appeal will be getting to watch the World Cup in their own back-yard. Africa will see a massive influx of children being drawn to play the sport and adults wanting to get involved in the football communities that start to flourish. Many other doors could open up for the development of African football if the World Cup is a resounding success.

I agree with George Weah that the current African teams are dangerous and could go far in the competition this June. Africa has produced some of the best athletes in the world. They have pace, agility and stamina – all key attributes for a footballer. Teams like Ghana and Ivory Coast have these qualities in abundance. But their ability to keep level headed and close out a game is what will cost them at this World Cup.

However, I would hope that the aftermath of a really good and enjoyable World Cup in South Africa could see some of those African legends return to the continent and coach such attributes. After all, it’s at grassroots level where sport is won or lost.

Africa’s problems will not disappear this June, but the positives that this World Cup will bring to the development of African football could be endless.

Harry Hesp