No More Underdogs In African Football?
As I sat there at the Adokiye Amiesimaka stadium, Port Harcourt Nigeria and watched Sierra leone mastermind a more than deserved 0-0 versus African Champions Ivory Coast,I could not help but Marvel at the latest trend in African football.
One day earlier,as coach of the super Eagles of Nigeria,I witnessed also first hand problems dealing with the assault and fight that the Tanzanians put up against us in Dare Salam. So hard was the fight that one could arguably say we might have been lucky to come away with a point.Though I feel my players deserved it.
Same day,South Africa had lost away to Mauritania 3-1 in a hardly fought encounter. These are scorelines that were near unthinkable 10 years ago, but here we are living it up in reality.
Whilst the ivoriens can argue that they were missing Yaya Toure etc and Nigeria’s super Eagles were fielding not just a new coach,new team, but players who trained just 2 days together for the first time before travelling out to Tanzania,the fact still remains that this would not have happenred in the past, so why now?
My personal experience was that the erstwhile smaller nations are not so relatively naive anymore like they used to be.They defend better now and prepare better for the ‘big nations’. Tanzania trained 2 weeks as a team in Turkey prior to facing the super Eagles as against the latter’s 2 days preparations.
The general knowledge of the game amongst Smaller nations is much better now as they regroup better to defend as a team and sometimes take the fight up to the faces of the big nations.
Many smaller nations have now foreign based professionals all over the world polishing their trade,sometimes in lower European but competitive leagues and surprise the so called top nations when they meet!
The most significant reason in my opinion why these Big nations struggle versus the smaller ones is the dwindling number of African players (from these Big nations) in the major top European clubs and leagues as was the case in the past.
You may ask why should that be decisive? Well playing regularly in a top club or /and league gives you that extra edge to eventually make the difference when you play other lesser opportuned players.Most especially when your team boasts of several of them assembled together at a go.
Take Nigeria (Super Eagles) of the 90’s or Cameroon,We had top players in most major clubsides and leagues in Europe more than most African Nations and could rely on these players to often make the difference when We played Qualifiers in Africa for major tournaments.
This is where the dilemma takes a twist.For major clubsides to come buying again we have no cjhoice but to improve our fortunes at the national team levels in major world competitions like the World Cup and African Nations Cup.
The situation however for a neutral spectator is heaven sent as match results are now less predictable unlike they used to be in the past .
In as much as this is not a welcomed situation for some of us ,this is the reality of World football today.As you may have noticed,football nations rarely lose by 7-0 like as was the case in the past but it shows also how matured all nations have become.
Having said that,this is in no way an excuse for faltering top nations like ours and with the population that some of us have, we should continue to dominate African and World soccer.
Though the smaller nations are getting more difficult to break,it is up to nations like Nigeria,Ivory Coast,South Africa etc to raise our level of play to continues to dominate!