By Mninawa Ntloko
Brazilian Pele once told a starry-eyed gallery he’d had an epiphany and seen an African country finally winning the World Cup.
This moment of clairvoyance took place in Glasgow, in 1989, and he felt confident enough to even pencil in a deadline for his prediction — he said that the continent would have a world champion before the millennium ended.
Now the 73-year-old Pele may be widely regarded as the greatest football player to ever walk the planet, but his penchant for getting his size-15 foot stuck in his mouth has often proved to be his greatest shortcoming.
The Viagra salesman’s vote of confidence has now become a curse as the furthest any African country has ever gone in a World Cup is the quarterfinal stage — Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and then Ghana in 2010.
And given the continent’s overall performances in the 84-year history of the global showpiece, only a reckless gambler with very little regard for his money would bet on Pele’s prediction coming true in Brazil in 77 days’ time.
England manager Roy Hodgson also believes that African countries are due a World Cup title and have a greater chance of winning this year’s showpiece in Brazil than their European counterparts.
Hodgson believes that the South American climate will suit African countries and should go some way in aiding a maiden title for the continent.
Curiously, Hodgson doesn’t actually explain why Africa could not win the World Cup when it was held in Africa in 2010. You would think that the climate favoured the continent in South Africa four years ago and yet Ghana couldn’t get past the troublesome quarterfinal stage.
So what chance do Africa’s five representatives really have in South America in June?
It’s very difficult to say what is likely to transpire but I’ll tell you one thing, all five — Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria — will need the soccer gods to be in a very generous mood.
Ghana face what appears to be the toughest hurdle as they will have to negotiate past Germany — strong favourites to win the tournament after hosts Brazil — pretenders Portugal and the formidable US.
It’s a pity that the luck of the draw was so unkind on the Black Stars as they have a squad that many believe could reach the semifinals.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for them to prove to the world what they are about because the cynics predict that they will be back home after the group matches.
Cameroon also have some tricky pitfalls to negotiate as they are in the same group as overwhelming favourites Brazil, Mexico and Croatia.
Their World Cup adventure begins with an opening match against the tricky Mexico on June 13 and that match may well determine how things pan out for the Indomitable Lions in their remaining group games.
If the Cameroon coach, Volker Finke, is able to get them to qualify from Group A, then anything is possible.
The German-born mentor recently went as far as describing Samuel Eto’o as his nation’s best hope in Brazil and it remains to be seen if the Chelsea star will rise to the occasion in what will be his swansong at this level.
Côte d’Ivoire surely have enough firepower to get out of Group C and should be able to deal with the threat posed by Colombia, Greece and Japan. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, given the Ivorians’ nasty habit of disappointing when a lot is expected of them.
Nigeria have regained the swagger of old under coach Stephen Keshi and should progress out of a group that includes Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iran.
Algeria complete the roster of African representatives and they have Russia, Belgium and South Korea to contend with in Group H.
The cynics have advised that the North Africans should keep their plane engine running because they will not be staying in Brazil long enough to familiarise themselves with the tourist attractions.
That Pele prediction certainly does not appear to be in danger of coming true, does it?