African soccer teams in perpetual cycle of amper daar
During one of my escapades as a young man in Johannesburg, I chanced upon a students’ residence called Amper Daar.
This home away from home was reserved for fourth-year students.
I thought it was an apt name. The Afrikaans phrase ‘amper daar’ means almost there.
You might wonder about its relevance in a soccer column.
Well, amper daar was brought into sharp focus by two events last week.
One was the Fifa Under-20 World Cup third-place playoff between Mali and Senegal, won 3-1 by the former.
This meant Mali finished third, after Serbia and Brazil, with the Europeans triumphing 2-1 in the final.
Ghana and Nigeria have previously won global youth soccer tournaments, including the Olympic Games, where nations field players under the age of 23 and are allowed only three players over this age.
But when it comes to the Fifa World Cup for senior teams, African nations always come a cropper.
Cameroon set a benchmark – 25 years ago – by making it to the quarterfinal.
Since then, Nigeria (1994), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) have all fallen at the same stage.
Over the past few decades, there have been numerous discussions, debates and opinions on why African teams get amper daar at the World Cup.
One of those arguments – said in hushed tones – is that this is due to age-cheating.
The belief is that African teams that won titles at a junior level have likely done so with overage players. This has never been proven. However, the question remains: How do the teams mature and fail to compete, or even match their counterparts when at senior level?
The Under-20 sides of both Mali and Senegal were again a case of amper daar.
And then – while we were still reeling from that matter – the president of the Liberia Football Association, Musa Bility, raised his hand for the soon-to-be-vacant Fifa presidency!
Before this unexpected announcement, I did not know of the honourable Bility.
What makes Bility think he can succeed?
After all, Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou has been at the helm since 1988 and is now the most senior Fifa vice-president.
Interestingly, Hayatou tried to unseat Sepp Blatter at the 2002 Fifa Congress in Seoul, South Korea, and the results were disastrous for the African.
He only garnered 56 votes, while Blatter secured an incredible 139.
Mr Bility does, however, offer a good argument when he says: “Africa is the largest voting bloc in Fifa, with 54 members.”
He also claims to have spoken to a number of African football federation presidents and says they support his candidacy.
Does he have the (a)Bility to stand by the quality of serious candidates who have expressed their interest in the position? I doubt that he will make it. We all know that Africa’s numeric advantage at Fifa has previously failed to guarantee a positive outcome for the continent.
After all, money talks and Africa just does not have that commodity in the quantity required.
I also doubt that Africa has proven its ability to lead an organisation like Fifa.
Just look at how CAF’s congresses and competitions are conducted, and at how African nations perform at global events.
On the other hand, Bility may consider his chances to be high against candidates like previous Brazilian soccer star Zico.
Besides his exploits on the pitch, there hasn’t been much said about him as an administrator.
He did, however, act as Brazil’s sports minister in the early 1990s.
This could be what has led to speculation that Blatter might not step down after all. Only time will tell. For now, Africa must deal with getting rid of its seemingly perpetual tag of amper daar.