2010 FIFA World Cup: Why African Teams Struggle in World Cup Play

Philip CramerContributor IIJune 18, 2010

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 13:  Asamoah Gyan of Ghana (R) dances with teammates Hans Sarpei (L) and Anthony Annan after victory in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group D match between Serbia and Ghana at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 13, 2010 in Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Phil Cole/Getty Images

After the Ivory Coast secured World Cup qualification in 2006, Didier Drogba led his teammates and begged their fellow countrymen to end a civil war in their homeland. 

The people listened and Drogba became a national hero for more than just soccer.

That moment represents the power and sway that soccer holds for the entire African continent. 

Sadly, there is a flipside.

Pele famously predicted that an African team would win the World Cup by 2000. 

A decade later, it is still uncertain when an African team will reach that feat. Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) have gone the furthest in World Cup play, losing quarterfinals matches in extra time.

It's not for a lack of talent, because the globalization of soccer has attracted the world's best players to ply their trade in the world's best leagues.

Many of the African teams are selected entirely from European clubs. Player development has improved, particularly in Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, where soccer academies produce a constant flow of players to European leagues. 

Africans have an unbridled passion for soccer equal to South America.  For many, it's the one outlet in a daily struggle to survive. 

However, all that talent and passion is often negated by corruption and worse.

Dictators use soccer as a tool to enhance their power, and officials and politicians routinely looted money. Coaching is also an ongoing problem. 

Few, if any, quality coaches have emerged from Africa, so teams tend to hire foreign coaches leading to the World Cup, who then move on to greener pastures. All these factors lead to World Cup struggles.

The story of African teams in 2010 has followed the usual script of great talent being wasted by bad coaching, a lack of discipline, and other errors. 

Unfortunately Nigeria, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast all lost their best players. True Didier Drogba will be playing, but the Ivory Coast could have beaten Portugal were he healthy and able to start. 

Thus far African teams have compiled a dismal record of 1-2-5. Yesterday, we saw Sani Keita lose his mind with Nigeria beating Greece 1-0 in a moment of sheer madness that probably cost them the win. 

Cameroon lost because of a bizarre decision by manager Paul Le Guen to start a team with virtually no attacking midfielders against Japan. There are now reports about turmoil in their camp.

This story has been writ in virtually every recent World Cup.

There are no easy solutions, but the first would be to bring in experienced coaches with longer contracts and then ensure that the country's officials and politicians take a step back. 

Ironically, the few countries that have financially viable local leagues have lagged behind some of the others because their players tend to play locally and don't get the needed exposure to European leagues. 

South Africa and some of the North African countries such as Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco have this problem. It's not so much the lack of talent as the lack of experience. 

Hopefully, one of the African teams will still be able to shine in South Africa, but it won't be the hosts or Nigeria. 

Ghana, even without Michael Essien, looked good and Germany's 1-0 loss to Serbia puts them in a strong position. 

Cameroon can still get it together while Sunday's clash between Brazil and the Ivory Coast, with Drogba likely to start, will be intriguing.

It would be fitting for an African team to finally get to the World Cup semifinals, especially in the first World Cup held on African soil, but the prospect is looking much dimmer than a week ago.

I would heartily recommend reading Africa United: Soccer, Passion, Politics, and the First World Cup In Africa by Steve Bloomfied.  It is both harrowing and hopeful. 

The last line in the book sums it up, referring to a game in war-torn Somalia.

"For 90 minutes nothing else mattered."