Saturday, October 08, 2005

Upheaval in African Soccer

Today was an unprecedented day in African soccer as four nations qualified for the World Cup that have never done so before. Tunisia qualified for the last place from Africa, and they have made it to the World Cup before, first in 1978 and also in 1998 and 2002. They have never made it past the first round, although they did Mexico in the 1978 tournament.

The four new nations to qualify are Angola, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Togo. On one hand, it’s always exciting and the five new teams in this year’s World Cup, at current count, give it the most new nations since the 1982 World Cup also had five. If another team joins the four African nations and Ukraine in the competition, this year’s tournament will have the most new teams since the 10 of the 1934 World Cup, which was also a large product of travel arrangements. The last few spots always tend to produce some new teams, and I think we’ll end up with probably six new teams in Germany, possibly seven, with Bahrain, Uzbekistan and Guatemala among the possible contenders.

So, on one hand I’m quite happy to see this new blood in the World Cup. However, when new teams enter the tournament it means that old teams did not qualify. Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, the darlings of the 1990 World Cup when they became the first African nation to make the quarterfinals, where they lost in Extra Time to England came second in African Qualifying Group Three, finishing behind Cote D’Ivoire. Cameroon won the African Nations Cup in 2000 and 2002 and it is a shame in many ways that they are not at the tournament.

Senegal, who shocked France in the opening game of World Cup 2002 and became the second African nation to make the quarterfinals, was stunned by Togo in Group One, as Togo beat the Republic of Congo 3-2 to finish 2 points ahead of Senegal. This means that Papa Bouba Diop, Mamadou Diallo and El Hadji Diop will all miss the World Cup.

I was personally saddened the most by the news out of Group Four. Nigeria routed Zimbabwe 5-1, but as Angola defeated Rwanda 1-0 they won the group. Both Nigeria and Angola had the same number of points, but Angola did better in head-to-head competition and thus qualified for the tournament. The Super Eagles are my favourite national football team for which I owe no ancestral loyalty. I think they play some of the most exciting football on the planet and they do possess some of the most skilled individual players. It’s a joy to watch a Nigeria game, especially after sitting through a dreadful Italian affair, and I always make it a point to watch all of their games live. I know I make it a point to watch as much of the World Cup as I can, but I especially watch out for Nigerian football. No Nigeria means no Taribo West, no Celestine Babayaro, no Sunday Oliseh, no Aiyegbeni Yakubu, no Jay-Jay Okocha and no Obafemi Martins. Martins is apparently one of the most talented teenage players on the globe, and I was quite looking forward to seeing him in action. While I will hopefully see him in 2010, by that time many mainstays of the last few Nigerian teams will have retired, including Okocha.

For Nigeria’s failure to qualify and for the fact that I will never see some of these fine men in Nigerian green again, I shed a tear.


At October 8, 2005 at 7:57 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the closest division in Europe has to be group 4 (Israel, France, Ireland, and Switzerland - plus two other insignificant nations). Right now any of the top 4 could still win it, I'm rooting for Switzerland to get a win against Ireland because I think it means that they automatically win the group - since they have best GF/GA. It's about time Switzerland makes it into the world cup again, especially with France playing so poorly.

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