Africa at the World Cup: First Impressions

YEAH!

Asamoah Gyan, scorer of Ghana's winning goal against Serbia.

The African teams have all played one match, and the stadia have all been used. So it’s time for some initial thoughts on Africa at the World Cup.

The Atmosphere: Everyone seems to be genuinely thrilled to be part of Africa’s first World Cup – the fans look great, the stadiums are beautiful, and Maradona couldn’t stop talking about how he wanted this to be the best World Cup ever, for Africa. If people can just stop banging on about ‘dignity’ then, we’ll be fine. It’s getting really freaking annoying. Yes, we know. Africa has poverty. This doesn’t mean that every African is a wretch who needs a superhuman, Sunjata-like moment in order to stand up with his back straight, chest puffed out and gait swaggering. Just look at Asamoah Gyan – no lack of dignity or pride on the continent. Please shut up.

But. I’ll come right out and say it. The vuvuzelas are horrific. There is no atmosphere at some of the games – all you have is 90 minutes of a low drone, and there’s no variation. It doesn’t get louder after a goal, it doesn’t get quiet when a player is down injured. It’s like the world’s worst elevator music. So far only the Ghanaian fans have succeeded in creating real atmosphere in the match, the kind that responds to the action. When I watch matches alone, I mute the TV and listen to music.

The Teams

South Africa: I had great fears. They proved unfounded. They looked quite good against Mexico, inferior in technique, but well organized, and passionate. Siphiwe Tshabalala scored a fantastic goal, and they got a draw, a good result in the context. With France and Uruguay looking poor and Raymond Domenech confirming that he is a jackass of the highest order, Bafana Bafana may actually advance.

Nigeria: This could have been brutal. Argentina played them off the park, yet somehow scored only one goal. Well, I say somehow. I mean that Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria’s goalkeeper, played a divine match. Literally, according to him. He says he was channeling God out there, and with some of his saves from Lionel Messi, it was believable. Nigeria had a couple of chances, but nothing to write home about. I’m afraid that their only chance is to rely on sheer physique and physicality. They’re a huge team, and that will unsettle worse teams than Argentina.

Algeria: A shambles. An incredibly silly sending-off for Ghezzal compounded their earlier error of turning up with matching peroxide-blond haircuts, as Romania did in 1998. Yet another error decided their loss, the goalkeeper spooning a relatively straightforward chance into his own net. It wasn’t as bad as Robert Green, but it was still pretty bad. These guys are going home early.

Ghana: Another case in which my pessimism was proven gloriously unfounded. I hadn’t known that the German-born Kevin Prince Boateng decided to turn out for Ghana, and he was fantastic, filling Essien’s boots admirably. Asamoah Gyan was a live-wire up front and the whole team was pacy, direct and aggressive. A really good performance let down only by the lack of a really great forward. Still, Gyan scored a penalty, and amidst fantastic celebrations, Ghana won 1-0.

Cameroon: I said that Cameroon were an ordinary team with a extraordinary striker. Against Japan, we saw what happens when that extraordinary striker has a stinker of a game. Samuel Eto’o barely touched the ball, and Cameroon were so dire that I went to the gym at half time and watched the rest from there. I told a friend that if Cameroon scored I would complete my workout naked. They lost one-nil and I avoided any embarrassment.

Ivory Coast: All told, it was a very impressive performance. They displayed a significant technical and physical superiority to the preening Portuguese, but they didn’t score. That may come back to haunt them, since it makes qualification far more difficult than it needed to be. 0-0 isn’t a terrible result, but on that performance, with a bit more conviction in attack, they should have won 2-0. Still, Brazil did not impress me, and their status of near-favourites is a triumph of branding over reality, so there is no reason why Ivory Coast can’t beat them. Drogba should be fit to play, which is an enormous plus, but in the future, their coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, must cast aside his innate conservatism and keep his attacking players on the pitch until the bitter or sweet end.

One thought on “Africa at the World Cup: First Impressions

  1. Adam

    June 16, 2010 at 1:22pm

    Nice summary, Ranil. Agree that the vuvuzela’s are devil-spawn; similar to the poverty issue, if I hear one more commentator wax lyrical about how they represent the ‘African rhythmn’ I’m going to puke. They’re just shit. The worst thing is, they’re selling like hot cakes at home in the UK, too.

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