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Africa's time to shine, plus the Insider's Guide to World Cup 2010.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – On the eve of World Cup 2010, thousands of South Africans are celebrating on the streets. Soweto is rocking with a concert at the Orlando stadium.
More African teams than ever before are competing in the World Cup. Will this be the first ever World Cup won by an African team?
The continent has long produced some of the world’s best players, but talent has by and large failed to translate into success on the sport’s biggest stage. An incident with the Togo team at the last World Cup encapsulates many of the issues that have plagued African teams.
On the eve of participating in their first-ever World Cup in 2006, Togo’s players and coach engaged in a tense battle with their own soccer federation over bonuses. The players threatened to strike, and the newly installed German coach resigned.
The matter was eventually resolved as a result of pressure from FIFA, the sport’s governing body, which attempted to avoid an embarrassing no-show in the world’s most watched sporting event. But the damage had been done. Togo went on to lose all three of their group matches, and an unflattering light was cast on African soccer once again.
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No African side has ever made it past the World Cup quarterfinals, while South America and Europe have collected all the titles so far. Even Asia — a continent where the popularity of the sport is a relatively recent phenomenon — has bested Africa with South Korea’s 2002 semifinal performance.
Hope is running high that during this World Cup — the first to take place on African soil — an African team will exceed expectations and reach at least the semifinals. After all, with Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and hosts South Africa, the African contingent is larger than ever before, and African sides will benefit from home advantage for the first time.
But past history, a tough draw and injuries to star players suggest this is unlikely to happen.
The lack of success of African teams in the World Cup is often explained by rampant indiscipline on the players’ part, but Carlos Amato, a South African soccer columnist, places more blame on African soccer administration. The bad governance and corruption prevalent in many African governments often extends to their soccer federations, and payment issues such as those experienced by Togo are commonplace.