OF AFRICAN FOOTBALL
The tournament and its
statement on African soccer in 1998..
Stagnation at the top and improvement
among the second and third row. Key descriptions for the football displayed
at the tournament played in February 1998, opening months of growing excitement
for soccer fans world wide.
First of all, if you take the
overall performance, the rapid (re)growing of excitement in the matches
during the nineties impresses. The same can be said of the improvement
of the African game itself. The matches have been played at high tempo,
especially considering the difficult conditions at Burkina Faso. Many players
that had arrived from Europe had to cope with a shock of plus 20 to 40
degrees (Celsius) plus temperature difference. The switch to the 3 points/win
award had brought one change in attitude (see the diagram
in Goal Fever) but the football has changed in
The big step forward. The big
step forward was taken by footballers/countries that still play in Africa.
It is not right to generalise this, Zambia is an example for stagnation
in the same time. But it is evident, that Africa based DR Congo and Burkina
Faso teams took the biggest steps. South Africa proved ability to compete
with home based players and home based coach. Egypt played perfect with
a home based coach giving the players a assumingly simple but effective
frame achieving to establish the kind of discipline necessary.
Meanwhile others just displayed
their talents like Namibia. Côte d'Ivoire is a in-between. In the
first round they excited but they knew when they had to be careful and
against Egypt they proved they are not so easy to outplay as their defence
performance before had suggested.
With the tempo the conditions
and the improvement taken into consideration, it is not too much said that
even European bigs would have had problems to defeat Burkina Faso or DR
Congo in a quarter final at Ouagadougou or Bobo-Dioulasso.
In the same time when teams
from second and third row leaped forward, others did not get rid of old
problems spoiling another campaign. Arguments between administartion, coaching
staff and players affected the performance of Zambia, Ghana, Guinea, and
probably Cameroon as well. To speak of a World Cup level, apart from always
possible surprisers, only Egypt, maybe Côte d'Ivoire, and, with some
reservations, South Africa looked like candidates for a three point match
at France. Unfortunately of those only South Africa has qualified. Of the
qualificants South Africa and Cameroon displayed the biggest individual
potential, but they have to grow teams, achieve a comparable organisational
team level for France, like the Egypt, Congolese or Burkinabé did
for this tournament. Cameroon is example for problems connected to the
expatriation of players. The European stars are individuals that, close
to complacency, are hard to integrate into a strictly organised team structure.
Apart from the question of right preperational approach, the European based
players might have become contaminated by the disease to see themselves
not as part of a team but of an individual pop star career enterprise.
They feel they know better than home based coaches and if they do not look
good in a match they will blame it on the coach and tell it to the next
journalist.Whether those had listened as much to the demanded as the Egyptian
players did? By the way this is not an African problem only. Turmoils at
Bayern Munich are example enough that even German pop star players are
hard to handle and to make competition winners recently. Cameroon now searches
a new coach again. He will have the shortest time left for preperation
of all 32 teams. Typical Cameroon? South Africa might face similar problems
when the color of the coach is made a topic in South African media after
first setbacks and following complaints by indvidual disappointed players.
Ghana always has to face comparable problems with players that do not get
selected and the neverending Pele-Yeboah-or-the-young-generation discussion.
Those seem more difficult conditions
to start with than the ones from DR Congo although suggested otherwise.
DR Congo did not have the money to fly in the European based stars. Although
they might have better individuals in hand, they had the right team structure
to concentrate, what surprised was the organisational level of their
performance. Whether Congo and Burkina Faso can repeat is unsure, they
profited from the situation. Mali and Gabon are names of the tournaments
94 and 96. They surprised but could not maintain improvement. They did
not even ualify for this years finals. (Mali has now some promising young
players, so that they could play a comparable role to the one of Burkina
Faso at their home Nations Cup 2002!)
The winners, Egypt, deserved
to win, only Côte d'Ivoire can complain a bit, being knocked out
as the only unbeaten team of the tournament after having performed exciting
football. But it was their decision to play their quarter final match against
Egypt so carefully (of course, had they decided otherwise and probably
lost the criticism had been the same just the other way round - the result
always manipulates the view).
Egypts victory shows again
how difficult it is to have an unbeaten run of six matches in a tournament
today on such a close level, not to speak of a team that might win all
six matches (In World Cup history by the way there has been only one case
- Brazil 1970).
The Cup is played, the next
one is drawn. There will be new surprisals. Already in October it starts.
45 associations including the returns of Nigeria and Lybia have thrown
their hats into the ring. 2000
(click for audio illustration, opens in a new window) is a magic number
and Zimbabwe will be exciting again with another different style of hosting.