Low strikers output, officiating, near-empty stands, poor pitches and the influence of dubious agents are some of the reasons cited by close followers of African football for the low standard of the ongoing 2013 AFCON in South Africa, writes ’TANA AIYEJINA
Goals make football the beautiful game. Supporters throng match venues in anticipation of seeing their teams score goals and winning matches.
But at the ongoing 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, the goals have been coming in patches.
It took three matches and 219 minutes before the first goal of the 2013 AFCON was scored, in the game between five-time champions Ghana and DR Congo.
That same match, which ended in a 2-2 draw at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, also proved to be the highest scoring so far in the competition until on Friday when Burkina Faso beat Ethiopia 4-0.
Teams have also struggled to eke out wins with several chances begging to be converted. In fact, five draws were recorded in the first eight round of matches.
But Christian Chukwu, who captained Nigeria to their first title on home soil 33 years ago, believes the standard of the competition has improved.
Chukwu, who was assistant coach when Nigeria won the trophy again in 1994, said, “For me, the standard of the 2013 tournament is high because of its unpredictability. You cannot predict who is going to win the next match irrespective of who is playing.
“The underdogs have been holding the so-called big teams to draws, which means the small teams have improved and can now compete with the best.”
Ace sports broadcaster, Bimbo Adeola, however disagrees.
“So far, so bad,” Adeola said without mincing words. “The hallmark of a good competition is goals scoring. The strikers have not done that.
“It might be that the Europe-based strikers are saving their legs or it is the signs that we no longer have quality strikers. One of Africa’s best strikers, Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast has moved to China, and he is not enjoying it. The likes of (Salmon) Kalou are not doing well.”
Chukwu agrees. “Yes, it is a sign that good attackers in Africa are diminishing. We no longer have them like before. In the good old days, attackers always found ways to score, no matter how good a defender was.
“In my time, even when you score, you keep attacking because the best form of defence is attack. But it seems modern football emphasises more on defending than attacking,” the former Green Eagles centre-back said.
Another critical issue is that of officiating. Several observers have criticised the level of officiating at the 2013 AFCON.
After Nigeria played out a 1-1 draw with Zambia in a Group C match on Friday, former Super Eagles captain and winner of the 1994 edition, Sunday Oliseh, could not hide his disappointment over Egyptian referee, Gehad Grisha’s officiating.
Zambia grabbed a late winner courtesy of a controversial penalty after Grisha adjudged Nigeria’s Ogenyi Onazi of having fouled a Zambian player inside the box.
Oliseh, one of the competition’s analysts, said on Supersport, “This is one of the reasons why FIFA don’t invite many African referees to the World Cup.
“How can you give this kind of penalty in a match like this? That one is a shame. It’s not because I am a Nigerian, it’s a shame.
“Giving a call like this against Nigeria, who everybody is watching, is an advert to the world saying, ‘I’m incompetent.’ We saw what happened between Ghana and Mali; it was horrendous.”
Ivoirian Mamadou Gaye, another Supersport analyst, is not impressed either.
“The penalty given against Nigeria shouldn’t have been. The Ghana goalkeeper should have been given a red card when they played Mali but the ref didn’t. Togo scored a clean goal against Ivory Coast and it was disallowed,” he said.
A school of thought says the early exodus of African players to European leagues has contributed immensely to the poor standard of the AFCON.
The belief is that Africa’s brightest talents are lured away to Europe too early before they can even understand the rudiments of the continent’s game and when they return for the AFCON, they find it difficult to adjust, having adapted to European football.
This leads to damage in the local league as the standard of play stagnates while the development of the transferred player is stunted as the move is not always in his best interest.
“It’s true. The major problem is poverty. All sorts of wicked agents pester these boys because they are at their mercy. If a Nigerian boy hears he is going to earn $6,000 a month, he will jump into the next plane.
“These wicked agents lure our players to places like Iran, Azerbaijan, Norway and even beyond. That is why we no longer have players in Western Europe.
“Poverty and wickedness of these agents is the cause of this. We used to have the likes of Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi George, Peter Rufai, Sunday Oliseh and several others who proved themselves at home before moving abroad to play professionally. They were matured and it reflected when they came back to play at the AFCON,” Adeola added.
Two major issues also bedeviling the competition is that of attendance at match venues and facilities. Stands are near-empty except when the Bafana Bafana are playing.
Naturally, matches involving the host nation have attracted the highest number of fans. Fifty thousand and 40,000 fans respectively watched the hosts’ first two games while the match between African giants Ivory Coast and Togo could only attract 2,000 fans.
Poor pitches too have also caught the eye.
“Check out the pitch that was used for the Nigeria versus Burkina Faso game, it was horrible. Look at the spectatorship, nothing to write home about. The stands are almost empty. In Angola (2010 edition), it was at least half-filled.
“So we have to keep praying for the hosts not to crash out so that we can still have people come to stadiums to watch the games,” Adeola added.
The influx of foreign coaches has also been seen to hinder the upward standard of the AFCON. For example, some coaches, who are not fit to handle third division sides in Europe earn lucrative contracts in Africa.
Of the top teams at the AFCON, Ghana, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Ethiopia and South Africa are the only countries using local coaches. The remaining 11 are of European and South American descent.
But that has not helped in improving the standard of the competition.
The impact of foreign coaches on Africa is not in doubt; Frenchman, Herve Renard led Zambia to an unlikely title last year. But it has not always been positive for the game’s development. The trend of Europeans coaching in Africa has come at the expense of effective local coaching.
The debate on why some African players snubbed their national teams because of finance is as old as the tournament itself. It was not different this time as the DR Congo team was engrossed in serious bonus battle with officials on the eve of the 2013 tournament.
The Southern Times reports that the prize money for the 2013 tournament is not sufficient to pay combined monthly salaries for Ivorian stars Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure.
The Confederation of African Football is offering US$1.5m to the winner of the tournament, US$1m to the second-placed team and US$750 000 to the third-placed team.
AFCON quarter-finalists will walk home with about US$600 000 — equivalent of Yaya Toure’s salary for three weeks. The total earnings taken by the quarter-final and group exiting teams is not sufficient to pay individual monthly salaries of the Toure brothers.
This has made it extremely difficult for some African football bodies to keep their players under the restraint as they always protest against poor remuneration.
Last month alone, Togolese captain Emanuel Adebayor almost pulled out of the tournament because the country’s governing body owed the team playing bonuses for two years.
Adebayor, who earns six million pounds a year in England, was quoted as saying, “I am very committed to national duty but I owe it to some of my young fellows in the team to ensure that they are paid because they need the money.”
The 2013 AFCON has shown that for the continent’s football to develop immensely, a massive rebuilding must begin to checkmate the same problems from occurring in future tournaments.
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