Letter from Africa: World Cup woes

An Ivorian fan in Brasilia during the World Cup on 19 June  2014

In our series of letters from African journalists, filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo looks at the state of African football, bedevilled by the perennial problems of poor organisation, tactical indiscipline and rows over money.

There isn't a city or village, bar or community hall - except, of course, those being targeted by African jihadists - where the World Cup in Brazil has not taken centre stage over the past two weeks.

Unlike any other continent, Africa's footballers belong to us all - not to Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast or even Algeria - but to the whole expectant mass of us in our constant need to reassert ourselves as a continent of heart and talent, especially on the world stage that is Brazil 2014.

Four years on from the first World Cup on African soil, many of the same splattering of players have landed on Brazil's green fields only to raise our anxiety levels as we watched mediocre football garnished with ageing strikers, petulant red cards and kamikaze defences.

'Idiotic penalty'

Furthermore, we smelt the stench of mutiny and rebellion over money amongst the ranks of our African stars all the way across the Atlantic Ocean separating Brazil from the west coast of Africa.

A Nigerian supporter takes a photograph ahead of the football match between Nigeria and Bosnia-Hercegovina on 21 June 2014 Nigeria performed creditably but have still never made it beyond the last 16 of any World Cup
A child poses with a vuvuzela as Ghana supporters react while watching the  World Cup 2014 football match between Ghana and Portugal on 26 June  2014 in Accra. Ghana gained just a single point, disappointing the fans back home

Ghana's President John Mahama was in no mood to have his football interrupted by players who were bickering over unpaid fees and he dispatched a plane with $3m (£1.76m) to appease the feuding team.

The Black Stars, meant to light up our World Cup with the purest of African football as they had done in 2010, had been threatening a power cut.

Cameroon's Indomitable Lions, who at one stage had threatened not to board the plane to Brazil over unpaid money, played without teeth.

Ivory Coast's Elephants, long considered the most talented team we could offer, surrendered a chance to reach the last 16 with an idiotic penalty in the dying seconds and will go down in history as the team that could never deliver.

Africa: Serial underperformers?

Pele famously predicted that an African team would win the World Cup by 2000

No African team has ever reached the semi-finals

Only three teams have reached the quarter-finals: Cameroon in 1990; Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010

2014 was the first time two African teams reached the last 16

More lows than highs for Africa in Brazil

Cameroon investigates World Cup match-fixing claims

Ghana FA chief to sue Daily Telegraph


Would there be a silver lining in these dark clouds over Brazil? And would that lining be all about the silver? Nigeria's Super Eagles - Africa's current champions - soon missed a training session over disagreements concerning their bonuses.

'Shabby treatment'

Start Quote

Talent and potential remain unfulfilled, teams are stranded at football tournaments”

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It is altogether some miracle then that, for the first time, we had two teams through to the last 16 of this world cup as Algeria and the disgruntled Nigerians continued to stamp Africa's mark on Brazil.

But why are things so fraught in African football federations? Why is it so easy for the headlines about African football to look like allegories of bad politics and corrupt governance?

It doesn't matter where you are - Zimbabwe, South Sudan, South Africa and beyond - Africa's football fans bemoan the administrators who generally fail to provide the national teams with the support they need.

Talent and potential remain unfulfilled, teams are stranded at football tournaments because federations could not afford return tickets, and South Africa, the hosts of 2010, have had 23 coaches in 20 years.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (L) takes a free kick during the 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match against Ghana at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia on 26 June 2014 Ghana's president sent a plane with cash to end a dispute over payments to the team
Brazil's Neymar, right, fights for the ball with Chile's Mauricio Isla during their World Cup match at Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on 28 June 2014 Brazil's Neymar does not have to deal with the same issues as Africa's stars

Those that have made it to Brazil cannot escape the organisational chaos of their own federations as the constant bickering over bonuses and fees has shown.

Yet, a country's appearance at the World Cup final is worth, at the last count, $8m.

There should, should there not, be enough silver to pay the talent? When we consider Ghana's spectacular performance four years ago, Cameroon's regular appearance at tournaments, and Nigeria's status as reigning African champions - where has all the silver gone? Why is the talent treated so shabbily?


It is almost certainly the case that football is too close to political patronage in many countries and those that run our federations are closer to government than the fans.

They will preach impractical patriotism as incentive enough to play, and leave themselves open to the lure of criminals' betting syndicates and bogus international fixtures to line their own pockets.

Is it any wonder then that there is a desperate lack of trust between the players and their federations?

A dejected Wilfried Bony (L) and Giovanni Sio of Ivory Coast react during the 2014 World Cup match between Greece and the Ivory Coast at Castelao on 24 June 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil The talented Ivory Coast team were on the verge of qualification until they conceded a last-minute penalty

Moreover, the African talent on display on the fields of Brazil is made up of international stars from every league in the world who at times carry their poorer countrymen, but who cannot be expected to work under the kind of dodgy federations the Messis, Ronaldos and Neymars of this greatest show on earth never have to deal with.

It is then we saw the egos. I don't know what other football fans can see on their televisions, but there were African coaches standing on the side lines who we knew had not picked the team, whose body language said: "I have no control over these moneyed and arrogant peacocks and this is not my fault."

As the curtain fell on Africa's participation at Brazil 2014, Nigeria and Algeria lifted the football from the mediocrity of Africa's football administrators at last - losing in the dying minutes to France and Germany - and lifted us all from the nightmare images of players kissing bundles of cash.

Having previously offered his resignation following his Africa Cup of Nations triumph, citing "a lack of support and respect", Nigeria's manager Stephen Keshi did resign after the French defeat - perhaps to become South Africa's 24th coach - but he has left a young exciting attacking team we will no doubt watch for years to come.

Planeloads of cash will not win us a World Cup, but it is time to treat African talent as talent and pay them what they're worth.

And that means talent on and off the field - for football administration should not be a job for life as it so often is in many federations.

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's column, please do so below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    The same thing that is wrong with African governments is what is wrong with African soccer; one cannot grow oranges from apple trees.

    The fire brigade mentality applied by African countries in doing things is the reason why nothing ever goes well in that continent. Late and shoddy preparations; problems with financing both training and compensation of players and nepotism in selection of players.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    The current World Cup quota system was devised during the colonial era. Europe enjoys 13 slots, while 5 for Africa. Time to live in the 21st century! So unfair to have African under-representation despite Africa being home to footballing giants. Systematically underplayed, a mountain to climb every time African teams are fielded - makes us expect them to over-perform, a vicious circular argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Football is a career and whether playing for club or country you expect to get paid. You do not send soldiers to war and talk about patriotism. If you promise your soldiers support and don't provide it, you lose the war. Why should I risk getting injured for a country that does not respect me, by keeping its promises, thereby potentially ending my well paid career. Nigeria is rich. Pay the players

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Just a minor point, but when did it all become about money and less about the pride of playing for your country? This point counts for all teams in the World Cup. People were debating whether England were avoiding tackles due to contractual obligations to their local clubs. Money seems to dominate what should be a time for national pride to come above cash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    For the Africans to succeed on the world stage of soccer, they would need abundance of discipline. Discipline to play sensible defense, to manage their game so they stay productive for 90 minutes, to avoid stupid errors and above all to understand that they are playing for the pride a continent that need it the most.


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