Hello Africa, Tell Me How You Doing!
This week the eyes of the world are turned to Brazil where 32 countries gather to take part in the biggest sporting event that this planet has to offer. The best players in the world, the best coaches in the world, and the most organized football associations in the world get to ‘show-off’ in what is undoubtedly the pinnacle of any football person’s career.
There are some fascinating scores to be settled at this World Cup. Messi and Ronaldo, the number one and two players in the world, will battle it out on the biggest stage of them all in an effort to truly wrestle the title of ‘greatest player of this generation’ from one another. Then there is young Neymar, who will be trying his best to step into the same ring as these two giants. Currently, Neymar has been identified as a potential great, but has still not done enough to even enter the same race. Should he lead Brazil to a World Cup on home soil, you can be assured that he will rightfully take his place with these two in the battle to be the very best.
Don’t forget Eden Hazard, who has the potential to challenge these three players if Belgium live up to the tag of being this tournament’s dark horses, and are able to advance past the group stages. He does not have the same supporting cast as the three players mentioned above and this may see his team crash out a little sooner than theirs, but Hazard certainly does have the opportunity to show the world he is of the same class.
For Lionel Messi, he continues to fall short of Maradona in the popularity stakes. For many Argentines, until the kid from Rosario, Argentina crafts his magic in an Argentina shirt, he still will not come close to Diego Armando Maradona. It’s ironic that while many football fans around the world hail Messi as the greatest player ever in the history of the game, in Argentina he is still only possibly the second best to play for the country.
When it comes to the countries that are competing, there will be a couple who are out to prove a point. Holland, a team that must go down as ‘the almost country’ in world football will try go one better than in 2010 and finally win a World Cup. They have had some glorious footballers down the generations, but even so, they have never been able to lift the FIFA World Cup. In their first match of the tournament, they have the opportunity to strike back at Spain who robbed them of their glory in the final in 2010 right here in South Africa. Spain themselves will be out to prove that ‘tiki-taka’, a philosophy of play they stole from Holland, is still the only way to dominate world football as they attempt to defend their trophy.
Then there is England, a country whose football many South Africans have fallen in love with because of the powerful marketing mechanisms in place have ensured that we have been fed a strict diet of the ‘Best of British’ for decades now. But despite the facade of a league that would have you believe it is home to the best football on the planet, the England superstars that have run out at World Cups in recent editions have failed to fire. England need a good run at this tournament to restore not only national pride, but also to wrestle back some of the ground that has been lost to German and Spanish league football these last couple of years.
Then there is Africa. As Dr Alban famously once sang, “Hello Africa, tell me how you doing?” and this World Cup represents a chance for Africa, as a continent, to finally show the world that African football should be taken seriously and to tell the world just how we are doing. In an ironic twist, Brazil represents the last Western World country to abolish slavery. An estimated four million Africans were brought to Brazil to work in the sugar fields and toil in the gold and diamond mines.
The African culture runs through the veins of many a Brazilian. Perhaps that’s why the African continent identifies with the rhythm of the Brazilian team, the artistry and power on the field as well as the drum beats up in the stands. While it certainly is not like playing at home, our African teams will feel a lot of love in Brazil if they shine. Ivory Coast and Nigeria have a great chance of doing something special at this World Cup. I just hope that the talent that exists in African soccer, grabs this opportunity to shine and breaks the shackles of mediocrity at the highest level.
And, while all this is going on – this great party that is happening in Brazil – here we sit in South Africa and wonder how it all went wrong. How four years ago we were the hosts of this epic event, and now can’t even get an invite. We have shiny new stadiums, lots of World Cup cash in the coffers and yet our national team lies in tatters. Coachless and directionless, year after year the same promises of new beginnings, and year after year more doom and gloom.
We can only hope that, as the footballing world celebrates the fruits of their labour, our footballing custodians, SAFA, are hard at work plotting our route to the next World Cup. We hope that they are in some way at least trying to live up to their mission statement of “aspiring and striving to become a leading football playing nation.”