It was 84 years of football’s biggest competition as the world cup kicked off in the Arena de Sao Paulo on June 12. When the dust settled, the pomp and pageantry ended, Germany posted as historic win over Argentina to become the first European side to lift the trophy in South America.
Prior to the tournament, African teams were bullish about their chances and they were tipped to do well because, apart from being endowed with talents, the climate favoured them.
Nevertheless, when the chips were down, Africa failed again to live up to expectation. Their inability to translate potentials into good results was obvious once more.
With respect to the continents abundant talents, Africa’s world cup performance continues to be appalling. The first African team to take part in the world cup was Egypt in Italy 1934. They were pummeled 4-2 by a rampant Hungarian side. From France 1938 to Chile 1962, there was no African participation. The 1966 English show was boycotted by Africa.
Morocco brought Africa back to the world cup in Mexico 1970. The y lost 1-2 to Germany, 0-3 to Peru and drew 1-1 with Bulgaria. Africa’s worst outing remains that of Germany 1974. The continent’s representative, Zaire failed to score even a goal. They lost 0-2 to Scotland, got hammered 9-0 by then Yugoslavia before suffering a final 0-3 drubbing at the hand of the Brazilians.
It was the Desert Foxes of Algeria and the indomitable Lions of Cameroon who announced to the world in Espania ’82 the coming of age of
African football. Algeria, coached by Mahieddine Khalef and Rachid Mekloufi, thrashed Germany 2-1, Chile 3-2 to book a second round ticket, despite losing 0-2 to Austria. While the Lions of Cameroon became the first Africa team not to lose a match at the group stage of the world cup. They drew with Peru 0-0, Poland 0-0 and Italy 1-1. The performance of both countries was a statement that Africa has stopped being whipping boys and points-donators at the world cup. Four years later, Morocco underlined this when they thrashed Portugal 3-1 at the group stage in Mexico ’86.
Cameroon went to Italy 1990 and emerged the first African team to qualify for the Quarter-finals. The fantastic Lions of that time beat defending champions, Argentina 1-0 with 9 men, humbled Romania 2-1 before losing 0-4 to Russia in their final group match. It should be noted that the Lions approached that match lackadaisically, having already qualified for the second round. In the Second round, they devoured Colombia 2-1 before dubious officiating in the quarter final clash against England denied them a semi-final berth. They lost 2-3 after extra time, with two controversial penalties awarded to the English side.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria emulated the roar of the Lions four years later in USA 1994. Again the referee in the quarter final match against Italy stood between them and history. The Super Eagles lost also in extra time 1-2 against Italy, with another doubtful penalty awarded to Italy in the dying minutes of regulation time. Roberto Baggio buried it to level the match 1-1.
Nigeria returned to the World Cup in France 1998. They were determined to set the records straight. In their first group match they flew above Spanish opposition 3-2 and piped Bulgaria 1-0 in their second match to qualify. Unfortunately they got carried away in the knock-out stages and were gunned down 4-1 by a no-nonsense Danish side, led by Captain Michael Laudrup.
In the next World Cup in Japan/South-Korea in 2002, Africa continued its progress in football. The Lions of Senegal, under the tutelage of Frenchman, Bruno Metsu, became the second African team to reach the quarters. After a brilliant group display that included 1-0 sensational victory over defending champions, France, the Lions went on to beat Sweden 2-1 after extra time in a dramatic quarter final match. Senegal was eventually stopped by a less fancied Turkish side, losing 0-1.
Ghana kept up the momentum, when it became the third Africa team to reach the second round of a world cup as the Black Stars, despite a false 0-2 start against Italy, went on to shine 2-0 and 2-1 against the Czech Republic and the United States of America respectively. Brazil dimmed the Black Stars 3-0 in the second round and it was again end bus-stop for Africa.
Perhaps, South Africa 2010 was the greatest opportunity for Africa to break its semi- finals jinx. The Black Stars of Ghana were marvelous again. And it had looked like they would be the first African side to qualify for the semis, when Asamaoh Gyan stepped forward to take the penalty in the last minute of the quarter final clash against Uruguay, after Liverpool striker, Luis Suarez unfairly handled a goal bound shot. Sadly, Gyan failed Africa when it mattered most. He could not convert and the match was sent into extra time. Ghana eventually lost 2-4 in the penalties that ensued after the extra time produced no goals.
So much has been written and said about what could have been, if Gyan tucked in that penalty. Or if the referee, in that match, had awarded Ghana their deserved goal instead of deciding for a penalty.