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An African World Cup? Think again

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 18 June 2010

Despite a vibrant start to the tournament African nations have failed to impress on the pitch, writes football author Steve Bloomfield for Channel 4 News. Is this shaping up to be Africa's worst World Cup?

A South Africa fan watches his team defeated by Uruguay (Reuters)

So much for this being an African World Cup.

Few Africans from outside the host country have been able to make the trip south, while the South Africans who make their trade from football – the informal hawkers and trinket sellers – have been banned from within half a mile of the stadiums.

The official World Cup song is performed by a Colombian and to top it all the temperature has routinely dropped below freezing. The hawkers outside the exclusion zone are selling out of ear-muffs.

All of that might have been forgotten if the six African teams had performed on the pitch, but so far this is shaping up to be the worst World Cup for Africa since Cameroon’s Roger Milla-inspired breakthrough in 1990. In the first eight matches played by African teams they have managed just one win between them and scored three goals.

Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria – England’s opponent this evening – all lost their opening matches and did little to suggest they have what it takes to reach the second round. Ivory Coast and South Africa managed creditable draws against stronger opponents, while Ghana registered the sole victory, beating Serbia 1-0.

South Africa’s 3-0 defeat to Uruguay has all but knocked the hosts out, meaning a continent’s hopes rest on the shoulders of Ivory Coast, who still have to play Brazil, and a young Ghana side that while looking lively against Serbia have yet to be tested against a top team.

No African side has gone further than the quarter-finals, a stage which Cameroon reached in 1990 and Senegal achieved in 2002. It was hoped that Africa’s first World Cup might be the stage for Africa’s first semi-finalist but, once again, it looks unlikely.

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Difficult draws haven’t helped. Ivory Coast, who possess arguably the greatest collection of players any African side has assembled at a World Cup, are in the same group as Brazil and Portugal. The continent’s hopes have also been affected by the failure of Africa’s best team, Egypt, to even qualify. The Pharaohs, who have won the last three Africa Cup of Nations, lost 1-0 to Algeria in a bad-tempered play-off, which spilled over into riots in Cairo, Algiers and Khartoum.

But more was expected of Cameroon and Nigeria, two of the continent’s giants. Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions possess one of the best strikers in the world, Samuel Eto’o, as well as a host of talented defenders and midfielders with English Premier League and European Champions League experience.

But stories of cliques, splits and rows continue to leak out, suggesting that coach Paul le Guen has failed to unite a group of players known to include a few egos. The Lions failed to roar in their opening match with Japan and their tournament will be as good as over if they fail to beat Denmark on Saturday.

Nigeria’s problems are more numerous, but similarly self-inflicted. A disastrous pre-tournament camp in London, during which three out of four planned friendlies were cancelled, was followed by a missed flight to Johannesburg and a stampede at their final warm-up game.

In the circumstances they performed admirably against Argentina but on Thursday lost to a Greek side that had been terrible in their opening match against South Korea. Nigeria need a mathematical miracle to qualify and will almost certainly be on the next plane home.

Most Africans will be getting behind Ivory Coast and Ghana this weekend, knowing that defeats for both could leave the continent without any representatives in the final 16.

Too many Africans have already been left out off the pitch; it would be a terrible shame if Africa found itself excluded on the pitch too.

Steve Bloomfield is the author of Africa United: How Football Explains Africa (Canongate), which is out now. Follow him on twitter at

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