South Amer­i­can dom­i­nance of the World Cup is more than a co­in­ci­dence

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FOOTBALL -

GO­ING into last night’s fi­nal group skir­mishes, South Amer­i­can teams had pro­vided the bench­mark for World Cup ex­cel­lence, and in so do­ing the chances of Diego Maradona streak­ing around the streets of Buenos Aires had in­creased af­ter Ar­gentina’s smooth progress to the knock­out stages.

Be­fore Brazil took on Por­tu­gal and Chile met Spain, all five South Amer­i­can teams topped their groups. Uruguay won Group A af­ter be­ing the only un­beaten team in that group (and get­ting seven points out of a pos­si­ble nine), Ar­gentina topped Group B with a max­i­mum nine, Paraguay won Group F (with seven points) and go­ing into last night’s games, both Brazil and Chile had max­i­mum points in Groups G and H, re­spec­tively.

Con­trast these al­most flaw­less per­for­mances with the African chal­lenge: South Africa fin­ished third (out of four teams) in Group A, Nige­ria, Al­ge­ria and Cameroon propped up Groups B, C and E, and go­ing into Group G last night, Ivory Coast were third and in dan­ger of not qual­i­fy­ing.

Only Ghana, run­ners-up to Ger­many in Group G, were left to fly the African flag in the last 16, where they will face the United States.

It now ap­pears most un­likely that Ghana will go all the way and break the African World Cup-win­ners drought, while the book­ies are in­creas­ingly view­ing Brazil and Ar­gentina as pos­si­ble win­ners.

So, yet an­other South Amer­i­can set of hands on the trea­sured tro­phy? And, con­sid­er­ing the next in­stall­ment in 2014 will be held in Brazil, it would take a brave man to pre­dict the tro­phy will go any­where other than stay on that con­ti­nent. While South Africans have em­braced the tour­na­ment and made the con­ti­nent’s first World Cup a re­sound­ing suc­cess, on the field the re­sults have been dis­ap­point­ing.

It now seems a very long time ago that Brazil leg­end Pele pre­dicted an African win­ner “by the year 2000”. With only Ghana re­main­ing this time round, that view looks to be out by at least 14 (given Brazil’s stag­ing in 2014), with no rea­son to sud­denly sug­gest 2018 will be the break­through year.

Why has Africa’s chal­lenge again fal­tered? Well, for one, the con­ti­nent’s cham­pi­ons (Egypt) didn’t even qual­ify, be­ing elim­i­nated by Al­ge­ria who showed no am­bi­tion once they reached South Africa. Their only point came from a dull 0-0 draw with an unin­spired Eng­land and in three matches they didn’t score once. Hon­duras (goal­less af­ter two matches) also failed to find the net.

African teams, in gen­eral, rely too heav­ily on their over­seas-based stars – the likes of Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Sa­muel Eto’o (Cameroon) and even Steven Pien­aar (South Africa). And when those big names don’t de­liver, the ef­fect rip­ples right through­out the team. It’s no co-in­ci­dence that Ghana pro­gressed by be­ing the youngest squad at the fi­nals, and they did so with­out any real su­per­stars. Chelsea’s Michael Essien was their one true global name but he failed to re­cover from in­jury and missed the tour­na­ment.

Else­where there re­mains a widely-held view that agents look­ing to show­case their play­ers on the grand­est stage, in the hope they are snapped up by over­seas tal­ent scouts, have an in­flu­ence on team se­lec­tions.

The de­part­ing Bafana Bafana coach, Car­los Al­berto Par­reira, fiercely de­nied that was the case within the South African group. But, read­ing be­tween the lines, he said the agents didn’t in­flu­ence his se­lec­tion, he didn’t say agents weren’t try­ing to in­flu­ence those se­lec­tions.

But why did the South Amer­i­can coun­tries per­form so well in the groups? Per­haps the sim­ple an­swer is that they know what is re­quired for suc­cess at a World Cup. They plan ac­cord­ingly, they peak at the right time and they ar­rive with a pre­de­ter­mined plan.

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