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