/ 4 December 2009

2010: Another side of the African story

The global view of Africa will be changed by the World Cup next year, whether or not an African team wins, former Netherlands international captain Ruud Gullit said.

”People’s minds are already changing about Africa. When people think about Africa, they think about starvation, HIV, civil wars — things like that,” Gullit told Reuters on Friday.

”But things are changing. Now there is a real possibility to show the world Africa is much more than just that. And if an African team won it, as perhaps Ivory Coast could do, then that would be an enormous boost for Africa as a whole, not just for African football.”

Gullit, a former European Footballer of the Year, is in South Africa as an ambassador for the joint Netherlands-Belgium bid to stage either the 2018 or 2022 finals.

Gullit, who has had close links with African soccer for many years, believes four of the continent’s six finalists could make an impact at the tournament, which run from June 11 to July 11.

”South Africa, as hosts, have a chance to do well but they will be nervous,” he said ahead of Friday’s draw.

”Nigeria and Ghana also have very good teams and could make a real impact but Ivory Coast have some outstanding players like Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Kolo Toure.

”The Africans have always had a chance but for one reason or another they have never quite done it. It often comes down to small details, but it would be nice if an African country went all the way.”

No African team has gone beyond the quarterfinals in the tournament and Pele’s prediction that an African team would win the World Cup by the year 2000 is now a decade behind schedule.

Individual talent
Franz Beckenbauer, who won the World Cup as a player in 1974 and coach in 1990, echoed Gullit’s remarks but said African teams still needed to develop.

”The development of African football over the past two decades has been tremendous,” the German said at the launch of the official World Cup ball.

”They are great players but they are not a team. When they come to the national team, they are playing for themselves,” he said.

”If in this coming World Cup they play as a team … they put all the individual talent into the team, then they have a good chance.”

Gullit said he would be rooting for The Netherlands. ”Naturally I hope that Holland go all the way,” he said. ”They are playing well at the moment. They qualified top of their group, they are third in the world rankings. Dutch players are in teams all over Europe, in England, Spain, Italy, Germany; they are everywhere.

”Of course it will be difficult and all the usual suspects will be there: Brazil, the Italians, the world champions — they know how to play a tournament.

”Everyone is very fond of Spain and the way they play. Portugal has a better chance than they had before, they also have a very good team.”

Ultimately though, Gullit believes that Africa will emerge as the winner whoever triumphs on the pitch.

”I am convinced they will show the world another side of the African story — a very successful side as well.” – Reuters