Forget it, the rest of the world is not discussing the chances of any of the African countries winning the 2014 World Cup. Attention is firmly riveted on South America and Europe.
I have been combing the international media. The most complimentary reference to Africa is nothing more than as ‘irritating’ hiccups to be dealt with and used as fodder by other teams. It is annoying!
Last week, I reported my conversation with some experienced, respected and renowned football journalists in the United Kingdom. They gave Africa almost no chance at all.
So, as a result of what I considered rather blatant and disrespectful, I threw my hat in the ring, swam against the tide of ‘informed’ thinking, and wagered, with patriotic gusto, that Nigeria, my country, will win the World Cup! Most readers outside Nigeria have not stopped laughing at my effrontery.
This week my annoyance is being compounded.
For the first time in my life, I saw an official document on global betting x-raying the chances of the 32 teams in the World Cup. It is revealing but not really surprising when I think deeply about its content.
Ivory Coast are the most highly rated of the African teams going to the World Cup.
They are in 18th position amongst the 32 participating countries! Unfortunately, several weeks to the World Cup, I don’t know enough about Ivory Coast yet to pass any informed comment for now on the team.
Surprisingly, even though Nigeria are the current African champions and in a group considered to be slightly easier than those of the other African countries, Ghana in 23rd position are still rated ahead of them.
Nigeria is nestling in relative obscurity in 25th position. That’s how lowly Nigeria is rated both by the international media and the pundits! It says volumes.
This is the reality
No African country is considered good enough in the present dispensation to win the 2014 World Cup.
That does not mean one of them cannot or will not, win it. After all, did two African countries not eventually win the Olympic games football gold against all odds? That may not be the same level of competition but it surely gives an indication of what is possible in a game of football under certain conditions.
It simply means that should any African country win this World Cup, it would be considered a ‘miracle’, a truly exceptional and extraordinary achievement. No accolades would be spared in capturing its significance and essence.
Therefore, rather than put undue pressure on the coaches of African countries by setting them unrealistic and extremely difficult targets, they should be given the freedom and confidence to get the best out of their players that would make winning a possibility.
Freedom means the time, patience, understanding, motivation, support and confidence to build a World Cup assembly of exceptionally gifted players without making work a hellish place, setting improbable targets and making them conditions for continuation of service. A winning team is not the product of a whimsical process or wishful thinking. It is not also a sprints event – the quick assembly of players from different climes and styles shortly before a major championship.
As Barcelona FC, Spain, Brazil and even Argentina have clearly reminded the world in recent years, a winning team is built like a marathon race – athletes drawn from a pool of exceptional talents, ceaseless training, a clear strategy, consistency in implementation, ability to withstand the periods of pain and loneliness, uncommon patience, mature organisation, perseverence, discipline, single-mindedness, the courage to go on in the face of disappointments and failures, confidence and unwavering support by administration and the public, and even more!
Even after all this, ultimate success still cannot be guaranteed as there are the elements to consider as well as opponents working as hard or even harder to win the same trophy!
Winning the World Cup is a truly daunting challenge. That’s why Africa’s football administrators must adopt a new attitude and strategy to support their coaches and teams, and prepare them to achieve miracles.
They must not put excessive pressure on their teams and handlers through unrealistic targets that only make achieving them a bigger burden than they already are.
Keshi’s situation is a classic example of how not to prepare a coach to succeed.
He is being harangued, harassed, pressurized, confused, distracted and even threatened.
Nigeria – easing the pressure!
I have been asking myself the question: where does the ‘arrogance’ of those setting the target of at least a semi-final berth for Nigeria come from?
Where does the temerity of those attaching Stephen Keshi’s future to achieving what is considered almost an impossibility by everyone outside Nigeria’s Football Federation’s Technical Committee, coming from?
Why must Keshi lose his job should he fail to win the World Cup or get to the semi-finals, when experts (except those setting him up for the kill by painting Nigeria as a potential winner when everything else points to the contrary) think it is an impossible mission to do so.
From the way things are shaping up in the administrative and technical madness between Keshi and the technical committee of the NFF, he is being set up as a scapegoat, to take the blame and lose his job for any kind of inevitable loss at the World Cup.
I don’t know for sure how the coaches of other African countries are being treated and prepared for Brazil 2014.
I am only hoping that they will take the advantage of being considered as serious underdogs going to the World Cup to spring surprises and shock the rest of the world.
Ghana – How prepared?
I picked up my phone and called up my good friend, Steven Mawuyenga, in Ghana.
Steve has always been a die-hard fan and believer in the Ghanaian brand of football, a unique mix of South American flair, European organization and African athleticism and fighting spirit!
When I asked him about the new Black Stars preparing quietly to take on the rest of the world in Brazil, he went to town.
Believe it or not, Ghanaians are very confident about the present Black Stars.
These are a mixture of some old but experienced and several young but exceptional players all doing very well in Europe.
They showed hunger and competitiveness to justify their inclusion in the team as replacement for some aged legends including Michael Essien, with sterling performances during and immediately after the qualifiers for the World Cup.
The man on the streets of Accra believes that with the Black Stars anything is possible. Typically, Ghanaian players are brought up these days to respect opposition, but not to fear any team.
Were they in Nigeria’s group, for example, Ghanaians would go to sleep because they would qualify against such relatively easier opposition like Bosnia and Iran.
Ghana are in a difficult group, but they will still defeat both Portugal and the USA. It is the Germans that would provide the greatest challenge, recalling that they lost to them the last time around. Ghanaians hope they can at least steal a draw against Germany and qualify from the group.
Ultimately, even a semi-final place will be good enough for Ghana because then they will claim to be the first African country to achieve it!
Ghanaians have not set any specific targets for their team and technical crew. What they have done is attach big incentives to arriving at different stages of the championship and using those as targets for the team and their handlers.
The higher the team goes the more the incentives. That way, they are not putting any undue and unnecessary pressure on the handlers such as the threat of losing their jobs, should they not get to a particular stage of the competition.
Expectations amongst Ghanaians are very high though. The country is quietly confident. The people will support their team and coaches no matter what happens in Brazil.
It is amazing how little of the other African representatives to the World Cup is known outside their home countries and how little the expectation from them is around the world.
Next week, we shall be consulting our ‘oracle’ and looking at the group matches involving all the African teams!