Africa's damp squib
Lashias Ncube fears that Africa's World Cup may soon be without a representative from the continent.
Last Updated: 21/06/10 2:25pm
Africa could be without a single representative in the second round of the 2010 World Cup. It is a prospect too ghastly to contemplate, but one that may come to pass.
Perhaps I exaggerate a bit, but surely never in the history of the World Cup has the host continent's collective challenge underwhelmed as much as Africa's. It's a damp squib. The hype that prefaced Africa's first ever World Cup has not been transposed onto the pitch by at least five of the six countries fronting the Mother Continent's challenge.
After the second round of group matches, the host continent's record - a solitary victory, four draws and seven defeats - is wretched. A total haul of seven goals and a meagre return of as many points from a possible 36 do not speak of a continent relishing and enjoying home advantage.
The African fan can't be too impressed with what he has seen so far. With the exception of Ghana, and to an extent South Africa and Cote d'Ivoire, who both managed creditable draws against Mexico and Portugal respectively, Africans have not seen much to enthuse about from their teams.
To compound their woes, an African side, traditional continental powerhouse Cameroon, were first to be eliminated from the tournament. Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria and South Africa are clutching at straws going into their final group matches.
For some reason even Algeria's gutsy goalless draw with England failed to excite the fans. In fact, by my reckoning there were more Africans - English Premiership fans whose loyalties transcended continental boundaries - who were terribly disappointed England failed to win.
Only Ghana, top of their group going into their final group match have their fate in their own hands. But even then the Black Stars may yet rue their failure to make the most of their numerical advantage against 10-man Australia.
The problem with a three-match round-robin system is that it gives teams little margin for error. It is better to hit the ground running. This is where Cameroon and Algeria got it wrong from the start. They lost opening matches they would have targeted for three points when the draw was conducted. After their respective opening defeats to Slovenia and Japan respectively, both would have been left battling demons of self-doubt.
While Algeria bounced back to hold England to a goalless draw in the worst match of the tournament so far, Cameroon crashed out after slumping to their second defeat of the tournament.
Questions will be asked of Cameroon coach Paul Le Guen's selections, against Japan in particular. The omission of Alex Song baffled. The Arsenal man's rating would have appreciated considerably after the tepid displays of those preferred over him, either in midfield, where Cameroon looked flat and short of ideas, or in defence, where the Indomitable Lions were anything but indomitable.
For all the tactical organisation coach Lars Lagerback has brought to the Nigerian side and the team spirit he has supposedly fostered, the Super Eagles are suffering from a distinct lack of cutting edge and creativity.
Previous Nigerian squads may have acquired notoriety for being mavericks with colossal egos, but at least among them they had individuals who possessed the genius and guile to conjure up magical, match-winning moments. The current squad looks woefully short on precocious talent and creative influence.
There is no doubt the fixture schedule was unkind to Ivory Coast. After acquitting themselves admirably against third-ranked Portugal the Elephants then faced Brazil, a side ranked first in the world and keen to secure qualification as soon as possible to avoid going to their final group match against Portugal needing to win to progress.
South Africa's 1-1 draw with Mexico was an excellent result in the context of the tournament. A defeat would have dampened the host nation's spirits. However, Bafana failed to learn from their mistakes in that game and were suitably punished by Uruguay, who exposed the host's shortcomings in the second match.
With their hopes hanging on a thread South Africans have since been praying that France continue to self-destruct. However, the outcome of Bafana's final Group A match against the 1998 champions will be rendered inconsequential should Uruguay and Mexico play out a draw.
What odds the hosts exiting the competition on Tuesday?