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30 Jan 2004 00:00
Well there’s a thing. Us fancy football fundamentalists all cram up on the African Nations Cup and proclaim Nigeria, Senegal and Cameroon as the clear favourites.
Geniuses aren’t we? Packed with European-based players, successful at World Cups and, in Cameroon’s case, never scared to try a new fashion in kit.
Oh, how we long to play in their now-banned Puma one-piece ‘catsuits” in the frosty Chesham Sunday League when it’s all over in Tunisia.
Thing is, for these three great African footballing powers, it very near is all over in Tunisia.
South Africa could well destroy Nigeria’s not-so-Super Eagles hopes completely after the West Africans’ shock opening defeat against Morocco on Tuesday.
Cameroon and Senegal could only manage draws against Algeria and Burkina Faso and Cameroon were the only goal-scorers among the big three in their opening games.
Nigeria? Blimey, they went in to the tournament with Bolton Wanderer Jay-Jay Okocha riding the crest of a wave.
Always regarded as the fanciest of African players, he went out the day before his departure for Tunisia and destroyed Aston Villa with two scintillating free-kicks in the League Cup semifinal first leg. Bolton lost 2-0 in the second leg.
But glorious Jay-Jay lived up only to his real name (Austin, renowned as a slow but reliable 1970s automobile where I come from — perhaps they should release a new sporty Austin Okocha) last Tuesday.
His frustration was almost tangible. At one point he’d run out of options completely and attempted to lob the ball over the Moroccan goalkeeper from 50m. He wasn’t even close.
His illustrious teammates were no better. Arsenal’s lanky Nwankwo Kanu, who wears size 14 boots, played like he was in clown’s shoes. And they put him in midfield.
So what do we make of all this. Have South Africa’s disgruntled Bafana Bafana got a serious chance of swooping on the Super Eagles?
Remember, this is the side which went off to Portugal for a big pre-tournament camp. But fewer than 25 of the 41 squad members turned up.
Then Inter Milan striker Obafemi Martins withdrew from the tournament because he said it would damage his club career.
But the telling blow came when Julius Aghahowa pulled out when he was booked into economy class for the flight over. Yup, economy class. Can you believe it!
Before Christmas, Nigeria nearly put Middlesbrough’s former manager Bryan Robson in charge. Coach Christian Chukwu looked like he was out on his ear before the Robson appointment was vetoed by government ministers.
Now Chukwu confesses: ‘My players were too relaxed. They did not take the game seriously.”
Not surprising really. These guys are not used to conditions away from their moneybags European clubs. Sometimes you wonder, looking at the big three in Tunisia, whether they are using this as a well-paid holiday from the stresses and strains (and the snow) of their bread-and-butter club football in Europe.
South Africa will find out for sure on Saturday.
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