Ghana's showing averts African disaster

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:39 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG – Despite all the heartache and disappointment that is the aftermath of Ghana's stunning loss to Uruguay, there is a feeling of satisfaction in South Africa.

The fact that Ghana was all but into the World Cup semifinals is tempered by the fact it got so close in the first place.

Ghana's showing in this World Cup averted a disaster for African nations and, in many ways, for the tournament as a whole.

When the tournament was first awarded to South Africa, there was great hope several countries in Africa would force their way into the inner sanctum of the old, powerful nations.

The continent has become a soccer factory, producing quality soccer players.

Having the World Cup on home soil would allow them to break through on a team level, especially with six teams qualified.

It never happened.

Five of the six teams never made it to the second round.

Ghana survived and made an inspired run, a run that proved fruitless nonetheless.

The Ghanaian team travelled in a bus called “The Hope of Africa” Saturday, a day after a heartbreaking quarterfinal loss to Uruguay. They were escorted to the homes of former South African president Nelson Mandela and his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, where they met the two legendary figures.

It put a better face on the tournament for African nations.

Take off the makeup, though, and the same tired face remains.

Africans teams were as disappointing in this World Cup as they have been in the past.

While Africa continues to develop players who ply their trade in the top leagues in the world, the multitude of problems at the national team level stunts the teams' growth.

Successful national teams need stability and direction without interference from soccer federations or bureaucrats.

Incredibly, some teams made coaching changes just before the World Cup began.

Ivory Coast appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson three months before the tournament started, after firing Vahid Halilhodzic a month earlier.

Nigeria hired Swede Lars Lagerback to replace Shaibu Amodu in February while South Africa named Carlos Alberto Parreira its coach last October after firing another Brazilian, Joel Santana.

Santana had himself replaced Parreira in April 2008, when he quit for family reasons.

At least two African teams were battling with their own soccer federations and many associations have internal struggles as a result of individuals trying to gain power.

When Nigeria flamed out of the World Cup, the national team returned home to accusations that included corruption.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan ordered the team withdrawn from all international competition after the Super Eagles' first-round elimination. Their only point was a draw against South Korea.

Jonathan's decision is based on the finding of a presidential taskforce that investigated the team.

The taskforce was set up so "the embarrassing outcome of the World Cup in South Africa won't repeat itself," said chair Rotimi Amechi.

That is not the way to develop soccer teams.

African teams suffer more issues than other nations simply because the sport is a lot younger in Africa than elsewhere, administration is an ongoing problem and finding the financial support a national program needs to operate is difficult.

At least Ghana stepped up. When five African teams were eliminated, particularly South Africa, the tournament was in extreme danger of losing the interest of South Africans.

But on the night Ghana qualified for the second round, it became the lead sports story, and in some cases lead news story, on radio, television and newspapers.

South African commentators and columnists urged locals to support other teams, notably Ghana.

It worked.

When Ghana defeated the United States to move to the quarterfinals, interest in the tournament was guaranteed.

Even though Ghana has been eliminated, it comes late enough in the tournament that it will make little difference in terms of fan support.

And while Ghana did not go any further than Nigeria and Cameroons did in the past, there are lessons to be learned.

Milovan Rajevac has been the Black Stars coach since 2008. Ghana is the current under-20 world champions and has previously won Olympic gold. The country has developed a viable and winning youth program and is also relatively stable behind the scenes.

But instead of seeing a breakthrough for African soccer, the 2010 World Cup has left people wondering when anything will ever change.


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