FIFA World Cup: An African Tragedy

Morli AblingerContributor IJune 23, 2010

24 Jun 1994:  Roger Milla of Cameroon in action during the World Cup match against Brazil at the Stanford Stadium in San Francisco, California, USA. Brazil won the match 3-0. \ Mandatory Credit: David  Cannon/Allsport
David Cannon/Getty Images

For more than fifteen years now, so called “experts” have predicted an African World Champion in soccer. This projection turns out, not just to be wrong, but also to be incorrect in its tendency. Over the last decades we saw a decreasing numbers of African teams advancing to the round of last sixteen let alone the quarters. With more and more players from the “black continent” playing in European leagues the success is supposed to increase, but let’s break it down a bit more accurately.


It was the summer of 1990, as Cameroon’s Roger Milla danced with opposing defenders as well as corner flags. For both of which, he got famous, but not only that, him and the fellow Indomitable Lions were so successful, they actually advanced into the Quarters. For the first time in World Cup history an African Team caused some serious concern in the opposing coaches’ minds. They finally lost to England in overtime in dramatic fashion.


Over the course of the next four World Cups the attention for African teams rose, but not a single one of them advanced to the semi-finals. Senegal is up to now the only squad, which equalized Cameroon’s success of 1994 in the World 2002. In 1998 and 1994 it was Nigeria, which did great things on the pitch only to lose in the round of the last sixteen twice. Common -football-experts-knowledge nowadays says, that in critical moments African teams just do not get the severity of the situation, and therefore lose their discipline on the field, especially in terms of defending. Nevertheless, all of the above mentioned teams played the game it is supposed to be played. Well, not anymore.


Even though, as UEFA abolished all regulations concerning a maximum of non-EU-players in one squad, THE African(by the way, all others did, too) football identity disappeared. This development took place, mainly because, as a matter in fact, the conditions of training in Europe comparing to any other Continent are better by any means. But European club-football’s beauty and passion vanished over last years due to inherent necessities. Speaking of those: A coach, who does not deliver success on a consistent basis will get fired, because, if the team does not win, the club runs out of the money, it needs to compete. Therefore it is just a logical development that more and more squads stop playing beautiful and start winning, the latest and best example being Inter Milan. These changes do not just make watching football on a international level incredibly boring, it, at the same time, lets the same teams compete against each other year in, and year. It is, as it seems, an inevitable loop. Of course there are exceptions, but either they are ineffective in the end, history would suggest Bayern Munich as the best and newest example there, or they are really expensive and therefore rare. (Barcelona’s strikers and midfielders are the best bunch you will witness. In fact, it is everything except for cheap). Probably this is a bit overdone, as there is dynamic offensive football in every European League. But in the international competition, in which the real money is on the table, you will see a dramatic decrease of the supposedly beautiful game.


And as more and more players get taught this kind of defensive understanding of the game, it automatically transfers to the national teams. It is no coincidence that this World Cup is the worst in a long time, as most of the squads just trying to either keep the game close or win it, with as little offensive football as possible. This development is especially sincere, when considering, teams must not loose more than a single game during the World Cup.

Admittedly this is not an all-new phenomena, as the Italian national team back in the sixties solely concentrated on scoring one goal and then, do not allow another one. But the vast majority always stuck to playing exciting football. In the nineties African teams represented this way impressively. It’s all gone.


The “African” game in the nineties was all about scoring and offense, one could describe the mentality, as “We couldn’t care less about everything, let us just play football”. Described all in tactic in combination with an enormous team spirit was, what made same African squads so erratically good. Nowadays with almost everyone, who plays in the World Cup, playing in Europe, those tactical differences are completely vanished. In this, the African, case, not for good. Every success in nowadays defined by a combination of having the best individual players and an extraordinary defense, both of which is not that, what African teams got famous for. Still some African teams deliver (e.g. Ghana), but they do not play the game, you love to watch. Passionate. Different. Beautiful.