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Africa WC triumph may be some way off I believe Ghana can go very far: Appiah

JOHANNESBURG, May 23, (AFP): Brazilian legend Pele predicted an African team would lift the World Cup before the end of the 20th century, but it could be some time yet before it comes true. Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria carry the hopes of the continent at the 2014 tournament in Brazil and none of them appear likely champions. Only Ghanaian Kwesi Appiah of the five coaches has been sufficiently bold to say his side can go all the way. “A strong side is one that boasts strength in depth,” he said. “Ghana boasts a strong squad and I believe we can go very far — even become world champions.” But faced with Germany and Portugal in the first round, many pundits believe Appiah and his ‘Black Stars’ will not even clear the first hurdle. Ivory Coast are grouped with Colombia, Greece and Japan, Nigeria with Argentina, Bosnia and Iran, Cameroon with Brazil, Croatia and Mexico, and Algeria with Belgium, Russia and South Korea.

Africa has a poor World Cup record with no side getting beyond the quarter-finals and only Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana progressing that far in 12 tournaments. An even more disappointing fact is that there has never been more than one African qualifier for the knockout stage. That sad statistic was supposed to end four years ago when South Africa hosted the first World Cup staged in Africa and hopes of an improvement were high. But despite a record six African participants, it was the usual story with only Ghana advancing beyond the mini-league first phase. The ‘Black Stars’ came desperately close to smashing through the quarter-finals ceiling, missing a penalty at the end of stoppage time before losing on penalties to Uruguay.

Amid all the African fury at the Luis Suarez handball that triggered the extra-time spot-kick, Ghana’s dismal display in the shootout was conveniently forgotten. Less fit Senegal ran out of steam against Turkey in a 2002 last-eight loss and naive Cameroon tactics allowed England to snatch a 3-2 quarter-finals victory 24 years ago. Former England and Liverpool star John Barnes told the Johannesburg-based SuperSport channel that Africans must improve their mentality to conquer the world. “Africans must show the same desire and discipline when playing for their country that they do when playing for European clubs,” he said. Barnes, who played for England at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, accepts that poor treatment by officials often leaves African footballers disillusioned. Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o and Togolese Emmanuel Adebayor are African stars who constantly battle with officialdom.

“The only problem in Africa is our leaders, who do not respect us,” Eto’o told the Confederation of African Football (CAF) website. “Until we are respected, other (continents) will never have any consideration for us.”
Cameroonian officials temporarily barred Eto’o from the national team two years ago for instigating the boycott of a friendly in Algeria over unpaid bonuses. Former Liberia star George Weah, the only African to win the World, European and African Footballer of the Year titles, is equally critical of officials. “Former players govern European football while those without passion or knowledge of the game rule in Africa,” he says. “Footballers rather than officials should travel business class on flights because they are the ones going to play.”

Bosnia-born Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic blames political meddling and the socio-economic environment for the lack of African World Cup success. “International football is very popular in Africa and some marginal politicians use the game to score points. They interfere and create organisational chaos.” Halilhodzic says the desperation to escape poverty means many African footballers are extremely individualistic, putting their performance ahead of the team. “They want to assert themselves and win a contract in Europe so teamwork suffers. That is why African football is unable to realise its full potential.” CAF president Issa Hayatou from Cameroon believes 2014 could mark a turning point in the World Cup fortunes of Africa. “I do not see why Africa cannot have one or two of our representatives reach the semi-finals or even the final,” he told the confederation website.
 

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