Can An African Nation Win World Cup 2010?
In 1977 Pelé announced that an African nation would win the Fifa World Cup by the end of the 20th century, a prediction that he, and Africa, have never been allowed to forget.
After the new millennium proved him wrong he extended the deadline to the year 2010.
One of the things a country needs in order to have a realistic prospect of coming out on top in a tournament such as this is experience. For any African nation to have had a chance of fulfilling Pelé's prediction, it would need to have been qualifying consistently in the intervening years and making steady progress up the ladder of international football.
But no African team has ever made this kind of steady progress.
Something else that teams usually need to win the World Cup is home advantage, and in 2010 the tournament will be held in Africa for the first time.
Four times in its history has the World Cup been won by a team from outside the continent in which it was being played (in 1958, 1970, 1994, 2002-all Brazil).
So 2010 is surely Africa's chance, but which country? The hosts, South Africa, are in disarray; they failed to qualify for World Cup 2006 and did not win a single match at the recent African Cup of Nations. The winners of the tournament, Egypt, has not qualified for the World Cup since 1990.
The old powerhouses of African football—Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal—are too busy recriminating about their failures this year to plan effectively for 2010. The World Cup in 2010 may be Africa's best chance, but it is impossible to identify a country that looks capable of taking it.
Yet the irony is that while African national teams have been failing to live up to expectations, individual African players have been making huge advances. A number of the Ivory Coast team members (including Chelsea's Didier Drogba) spent some or all of their formative years in France, and of those who stayed at home many came through the youth academy of former French international Jean-Marc Guillou, which was designed to scour the Ivory Coast for raw talent, train it up in state-of-the-art facilities and then export it to club sides in France and elsewhere.
What has really changed about African football over the past 30 years is not the strength in depth of the game, but the fact that it is now possible to construct relatively successful national teams in the most unlikely places.
Ivory Coast, Angola, Ghana, and Togo are the beneficiaries of the new equality at work in international football: luck.
Long-term success in international football requires not just luck, but also talented footballers. It also requires developing infrastructure and footballing institutions.
In Africa, the only country to have worked hard on building up its infrastructure and football institutions is South Africa; unfortunately, South African football has not unearthed enough talented individuals to compete with the rest of the continent, never mind the rest of the world.
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