Whenever the Western media discusses African football and the World Cup, it is customary to mention former England manager Walter Winterbottoms assertion that an African nation would win the championship by the end of the century. France 98 offers the last chance for the fulfilling of this prediction. The failure of the continents side to realize their full potential stems primarily from a lack of adequate resources, but has been exacerbated by political interference and corruption. The prime example of this is Ghana who have perhaps the best record of any country in junior competitions, but who have yet to qualify for the finals of a world cup.
The recent African Nations cup in Burkina Faso provided a chance to analyze the prospects of four out of the five teams competing in France (Nigeria being banned for refusing to participate in the previous tournament). The two north African sides, Tunisia and Morocco, were both well organised but lack the flair players needed to unlock defences of the quality of Brazil, Norway and England. Tunisia have an excellent coach in Henryk Kasperczak, but it is hard to envisage them winning a match. Morocco are possibly a better side than when they qualified for the second round in the last world cup. Undoubtedly the potential star of the side is Mustapha El Hadji, who grew up in France and now plays for Sporting Lisbon. Certain to beat Scotland and to lose to Brazil, the match against Norway will be crucial to their ambition to repeat the achievements of last time. One side who would be more than happy to do just that are Cameroon. However the Indomitable Lions have declined since the demise of Roder Milla and co. Their best chance may lie in the fact that many of the squad playing in France, including the 16 year old Salomon Olembe who made his debut against England.
South Africa reached the final in Ougadougou but were outclassed by a uninspiring Egyptian side. Despite the best off-field organization on the continent and a thriving domestic league, it will be a surprise if they can qualify from their group. Fish of Bolton and Radebe of Leeds provide a solid rearguad but their defending as a team leaves a lot to be desired. Chances could be improved, however, if new coach Troussier can attract Karlsruhes Sahaun Dundee into the fold.
The only truly realistic chance of an African win comes in the form of Nigeria. Winners of the African Nations cup in 1994, quarterfinalists in the USA, and Olympic champions in Atlanta, the side has a proven record in major tournaments. However, political maneuverings have adversely affected the side and lead to a rapid turnover in coaches. Whether the latest incumbent, Bora Milutinovic, is allowed to pick his own side will be crucial to their progress. That Nigeria have the players to win in France is indisputable. Babayaro, Udechukwu, and Inters Taribo West will form a classy defence. Up front will be Victor Ikpega, the current African footballer of the year who is a superb player, and if able to return to his Atlanta form might just be able to give Nigeria the edge to enable to take them to great heights.
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