2014 World Cup: Why African sides fall short
The legendary Pele once predicted that an African team would win the Soccer World Cup by the end of the 20th century, but so far none of our teams have come close to achieving that illustrious feat.
Unlike four years ago, when Ghana brought hope to the entire African continent by reaching the last eight, the quarter-final stage has been reached at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and all five African sides are back home.
I believe that there are a plethora of reasons why African teams under-perform on the world’s biggest stage.
Aside from the off-field in-fighting between players and administrators regarding outstanding payments – a most unwanted distraction that I believe could have been avoided – on the field it’s clear that we boast exceptionally talented players plying their trade at top European clubs. However, these very players seem to struggle to transfer the self-same ability and discipline when turning out for their respective countries.
Manchester City’s Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure is one such example, having produced sub-par World Cup performances by his own high standards.
I tend to agree with Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi who has stated that African players, at large, lack tactical discipline and concentration.
When analysing the performances of the African nations in Brazil, we find that they are capable of competing against the best footballing nations in the world during certain stages of a match.
If we examine Algeria, for example, who performed admirably to reach the Round of 16, a lack of defensive discipline ultimately led to their elimination.
The North Africans scored seven goals, but conceded the same number after four matches. And against Germany, who in my opinion are the best team when transitioning from defence to attack, Algeria’s lack of concentration and tactical discipline over the 120 minutes of play let them down when it mattered most.
The only other African team to advance beyond the group stages were the Super Eagles.
While Nigeria matched France in terms of ball possession, crucially they were unable to turn that possession into goal-scoring opportunities. Eight shots at goal during the entire game was simply not good enough from the incumbent African champions.
And, as in the game against Argentina, Nigeria conceded a further two goals from dead-ball situations. One would have thought that they would have devised a plan to counteract this tactic after clear warning signs.
We have seen an increase in the percentage of goals scored from either a dead-ball situation or the second ball after a dead-ball scenario, as many teams are spending hours perfecting the art. Dead-ball situations and reacting to the winning the second ball is something we at Orlando Pirates practice intensely at training both offensively and defensively. It’s imperative players remain focused and disciplined for the full match period.
Moreover, when you are playing in a knock-out competition, you simply do not get a second chance. Our players on the African continent need to learn this and understand the importance of taking responsibility.
But in the same breath, I believe that we are not playing enough to our own strengths. I’m of the opinion that, at times, we place too much focus on addressing our weaknesses and therefore insufficient hours are spent honing our strengths. In Africa, we boast exceptionally skilled and talented players when in ball possession.
While the 20th edition of the Soccer World Cup no longer enjoys an African flavour, I believe the eight teams that have advanced to the quarter-final stage of the tournament are all deserving participants.
Although it’s difficult to predict an outright winner at this point, Holland and Germany seem to be the most balanced teams in the competition and are the closest to playing what one would term “total football”.