Analysis/2014 World Cup
Thursday, June 12, 2014
The Africans: How Will They Fare in Brazil?
By Valentine Kabby Banjakey, My Basse Sports Editor
The twentieth edition of the FIFA World Cup starts today. Later in the day, the Brazilian Selecao stars, as hosts, will walk out on to the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo taking on The Blazers of Croatia to kick off the most epic and gripping of football tournaments.
But while the South American country will no doubt be buzzing, no other continent will be more jubilant and celebratory in excitement than Africa. Africa just loooves football. Excuse the emphasis, but blame it on the excitement (it’s the Basse-rian in me).
Out of 32 teams competing at this year’s finals, five hail from our very own energetic and ever football-crazy Mama Land. And from Tangier to Soweto, Nairobi to Lagos, Luanda to Bamako, just every city, town, village and hamlet in Africa will be BUSY keeping up with all of the happenings, scores and results from over six thousand miles away.
BUT nowhere will probably feature more enthusiastic football folks glued to their radio (Yeah my Fulani brothers will have their radios up to the ears no matter how big the item is) and television sets than the town of Basse, in the Upper River Region of The Gambia. Basse might be little, but her population, so diverse and purely African with citizens of different nationalities calling her home, will totally be an even crazier football zone for the next month.
Okay, so sadly The Gambia hasn’t come close to making a debut at the World Cup yet; Mauritania didn’t even attempt to take part in the qualifiers, and Guinea Conakry are not gracing the finals either, but Nigeria is represented. And Nigerians have taken to Basse like fish to water (there’s a large and growing number of Nigerian residents). Also, the other four African countries representing Africa in Brazil, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Algeria and Cameroon will, doubtlessly, all find voices of support and sympathy, screaming their lungs out all the way from Basse rooting for them as the tournament gets underway.
Africa is a big and resourceful continent, full of talent, energy, rhythm and exuberance, and it’s quite baffling to say the least, as to how and why no African country has so far managed to get past the Quarter Final stage, much less bring the Holy Grail back to the land of the truly rich and mighty.
Will all of that change this year? Are you optimistic? Should we be hopeful? AND what African country do you think will fare best and progress furthest?
Well, let’s take a quick look at the five countries representing our beautiful continent, shall we:
The Super Eagles are the reigning African Champions, after sweeping aside opponents in the 2013 African Cup of Nations, in a competition they were largely considered underdogs and dark horses.
Being Africa’s most populace nation, the Super Eagles have never really faced the problems of producing a variety of talented quality players, but like many African countries, they have suffered from inside politics, or maybe call it ‘Poli-Tricks’, and that has mostly blighted their chances on the world stage.
But depending on what tactics and formations Head Coach Stephen Keshi employs, they can at least manage a breakthrough from the group stages and into the second round.
WATCH THIS PLAYER(S): Emenike, Emmanuel. He sure knows where the back of the net is, and he also runs himself to the ground for the team. He is a fighter and he will need his comrades to battle together.
If there was any team so close to getting to the Semi Finals of the World Cup, it was the Black Stars back in South Africa 2010. But we don’t need to be reminded of that terrible Asamoah Gyan penalty miss, do we?
This should be a fresh start and they are loaded with exciting new talent as well as genuine experience in players like Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari. But being paired in what most consider the Group of Death (facing Germany, Portugal and USA), it will still be regarded as progress of some sort if they negotiate their way through to the second round from this tough set of opponents.
WATCH THIS PLAYER(S): The Ayew Brothers. If they are both selected in the first eleven, defenders facing them will definitely have a whole lot of trouble taming them. Question is, will they invoke the winning spirit and mentality of their father, Abedi Pele Ayew, to get the Black Stars shining bright?
The Indomitable Lions are very experienced with the World Cup, they have graced the tournament six times now, so they are no spring chickens when it comes to this stage. But do they have what it takes at this moment?
Samuel Eto’o, the star of the team, is of course one of the best strikers to ever play the game, in the history of the game, but he is ageing. (And no, I am not even validating Mourihno’s silly assertions about the guy being a pensioner pretending to be a newbie). But there are more questions with him right now than answers. And most prominent is, can he carry the team on his back across the line at this stage of his career?
This is not the era of Roger Milla, who was, without a doubt, the star man but also boasted a vastly talented supporting cast in Cyrille Makanaky, Omam-Biyik, Emmanuel Kunde, Thomas Nkono and Co.
WATCH THIS PLAYER(S): Samuel Eto’o. He leads this team, on and off the pitch. If he turns up and manages to inspire the upcoming players to turn their games up, then it’ll be an interesting tournament for them. It’s all Ifs and BUTs though as things stand.
The only North African team to manage qualification will be no push-overs, and their group is not necessarily filled with world beaters anyway (they are facing Korea, Russia and Belgium), and in all honesty, if they can’t at least get to the second round, then they should have graciously forfeited their place to their neighbors, Egypt, who would surely have easily brushed these teams off. Then again, why didn’t Egypt make it? Hmmm.
Anyway, on paper, this group doesn’t seem difficult to get out of, but then again, what Algeria is going to turn up, the erratic and ill-disciplined one or the technically gifted and never-say-die Fennec Foxes?
WATCH THIS PLAYER(S): El Arbi Soudani. He has been consistent with his goal-scoring prowess and for them to get through to the next round, they need him again to have his shooting boots tightly rocked on.
COTE D’IVOIRE –
For the third time in a row, The Elephants will be at the World Cup. But have they only been going to flatter to deceive? Raising hopes but delivering very little?
Truth is, man for man, most of the Cote D’Ivoire players can possibly walk into most teams in world football. Yes that’s how much individual talent they possess, but it’s almost mystical, the tumbling and shameful exits they experience when they come together as a team.
Is this year going to be different? Well, Yaya Toure is on top of his game, Gervinho is like born again after finding his form in Italy, Wilfred Bony is so good right now he is more than capable of reducing even the legendary Didier Drogba to just a super-sub, and the combined experience of Didier Zokora and Kolo Toure can come in very handy.
It wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but they can at least get to the Quarter Finals. Surely right.
WATCH THIS PLAYER(S): Yaya Toure & Gervinho. Yaya is a powerhouse, and if he manages to replicate his regular club form, coupled with Gervinho’s devastating pace and balance, opposing teams will be blown away.
So there we have them, the Nations carrying the whole of Africa in Brazil. And of course the whole of Africa in one way or the other is represented in our dear Basse, so it leaves me, and I am sure you too, with deep feelings of nostalgia and a longing to be there (in Basse, since we aren't in Brazil), right now like I remember from when I was a child, from High Level to Mansajang Kunda, from Santa-Su to Manneh Kunda, from KabaKama to Koba Kunda, how the whole town’s atmosphere smelled of football whenever games were on. The buzz, the energy and the vibe, for Basse is truly a football town, always has been and always will be.
Personally, I have no idea which team will win the World Cup this year, even though if I was a betting man I’ll be backing Germany. But at least for now, let’s just hope an African team makes decent progress and makes it as far as the Semi Finals, and then we can push on from there.
About the Author: Our newest member of the editorial board, Valentine Kabby Banjakey, commonly known by his middle and childhood name, Kabby, back in Basse, is a media consultant and entrepreneur, and an avid sports fan who has also worked as a commentator and analyst on GRTS' coverage of football tournaments whenever he is in The Gambia. He, alongside former national team coach Peter Bornu Johnson and former Gambia international Ebrima Manneh, have been regular football analysts on GRTS during the Africa Cup of Nations and other international competitions. Kabby also wrote for the Daily Observer in Banjul, The Gambia while he attended High School and after graduation.
Kabby attended Koba Kunda and St. George's Primary Schools in Basse and later proceeded to Fatima High and St. Augustine's High Schools in Banjul. He later went to the UK to do further media studies. In 2012, he and his family resettled in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, where, alongside his media practice, he runs a logistics and shipping company.