CANADA 2015: the African story

2238772_full-lndPhoto Credit: Fifa.com

This article was written before the conclusion of the World Cup in Canada. The USA have already emerged Champions for a record third time.

Many thanks to the expansion of participating teams at the 7th FIFA Women’s World Cup from 16 to 24, Africa had three countries to count on for global glory; Nigeria, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire. But as I write, with less than 2 more weeks to the end of the tournament, there’s not one left at Canada 2015… and that is the story.

Same old same old, truth be told.

Except that Cameroon became the second African nation to advance from the group stage in the history of the competition – after Nigeria did it in 1999 and Africa now has a hat-trick heroine in Gaelle Enganamouit whose conspicuous hair style tends to have won a World Cup before her.

The Indomitable Lionesses would not be denied the spotlight and they did not disappoint while they lasted; bowing to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of China in the Round of 16. To this date, they’ve been accorded plaudits from all and sundry.

Cameroon… Forging ahead

Only the Indomitable Lionesses would feel somewhat satisfied with their achievements in Canada, which defines progress. They did not only erase the horror of 2012 London Olympics – where they swallowed 11 goals and scored just one – but reintroduced themselves as a roaring surprise package.

Not many thought Cameroon would succeed at Canada 2015 on their debut but I’ve always thought that amongst all the African teams at the tournament, they had the easiest route out of the group stage in spite of being the lowest-ranked team in a group that had two other newcomers and the defending Champions. I had hopefully reserved third place for them with four points at least.

But, the brave Lionesses announced their arrival with a 6-0 spanking of Ecuador, almost squeezed a point off Japan in a 2-1 defeat, before putting up a show of sheer determination to come from behind and earn a 2-1 victory over Switzerland to finish second with six points.

They confidently advanced to the last 16 but failed to break a youthful China side with their many shots as a set-piece goal showed them the way back to Yaoundé. In all their stay at the tournament, their passionate attacking style of play yielded the highest number of goals by any African team (nine), while their decent defense leaked just four.

Surely Nigeria has got to watch her back.

Cameroon’s story since winning the 2011 All-Africa Games has turned heads. They went on to finish third at the Africa Women Championship in 2012 before moving a step further to second – behind Nigeria – in 2014. Alongside the Olympics qualifier, they will now prepare to defend their All-Africa Games gold in September.

“Nigeria were winning all the time in Africa,” Ngono Mani told FIFA.com. “They were pushing us to say one day we also have to achieve like Nigeria.

Nigeria… Still left behind

Unfortunately so.

The Seven time African Champions (and undoubtedly the best team in Africa) needed seven matches to reach their first ever world cup final.

This was to seemingly be justification of their place as one of the elite seven making their seventh World Cup appearance in Canada; a league made up of Two time Champions USA and Germany, One-time winners Norway and Japan, then Runners-up Sweden and Brazil.

Instead, the giant of Africa was yet again dwarfed on the world stage despite having one of the most talented crop of players.

After a thrilling 3-3 opener against Sweden, a win against Australia would have sealed a Round of 16 spot – that was their only hope of a win at the group stage.

They knew it, but blew it.

Their 2-0 loss to the Matildas was ironically, their worst defeat at the tournament and now we know why Alen Stajcic’s team were deserved winners.

Not like it was not expected but there was still that knowledge that they would need a lot more luck than work to advance that’s why I held on until Sarah Nnodim’s second yellow in their 1-0 defeat against the USA.

Three points with a reasonable goal difference would have seen them out of the group of death at least as one of the four best third placed teams, but they could only muster a disappointing point; scoring three and conceding six.

It is now 16 years and counting since the African Queens achieved their best of a Quarter-Final finish in 1999.

Cote d’ Ivoire… taking the first step

What a rude awakening!

The newcomers and least-ranked team at the tournament (67th) had to endure a brash welcome at the hands of the highest-ranked team in the world and two-time champion, Germany. A 10-0 defeat wasn’t an encouraging start for Les Elephants who were playing their first match against a non-African side.

However, they recovered well enough and came close to getting a point in their 3-2 loss to Thailand before finally bowing out with a respectable 3-1 defeat to former champions, Norway.

Truthfully, conceding 16 and scoring three is not a great first impression but they have taken a first step, one that has attracted admiration.

“We wanted to do well in important matches like the one against Germany,” said Ivory Coast’s coach Clementine Toure.

“We arrived 72 hours before the game, and were very tired from a long journey of 15 hours and with jet lag. Those are things that we would like to correct, to arrive earlier, and to play preparation games. We haven’t been able to play friendly games, and this has hurt us.”

 

Now here are two lessons learnt

a) By failing to prepare you prepare to fail

This is one of the Golden Rule.

Preparation is paramount before taking up any challenge, but the level of preparation determines how far one would go in a quest.

It isn’t enough to play local friendly games with academy boys and league sides, neither is it quite a feat to play only teams from your continent and maybe one behind-closed-doors “grade A” friendly before taking on Germany, the USA, Japan and the rest of world

But that was basically all African teams could boast of; late and little preparation.

While there were invitational tournaments in some other parts of the world, giving most Canada-bound teams the opportunity to mingle with one another before the tournament, Africa’s representatives had to make do with their All-Africa Games qualifiers and 2016 Olympic qualifiers from which some of their opponents withdrew.

This is not helping their cause, as they too dream of conquering the world some day. It is not helping their world rankings too.

Little wonder the highest-ranked team has been dangling between 32 and 35 since 2012. It is not by beating a 97th-ranked Mali 9-1 over two legs in an All-Africa Games qualifier and playing only eight matches per year (which is subject to availability of tournaments) that accounts for progress.

Nigeria were the only nation of the 24 participating in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 to be UNDEFEATED in the 2014 calendar year winning all eight of its matches, seven of which were basically world cup qualifiers (five African Women Championship games inclusive).  

With that, you can imagine how many matches other African countries could have played. Meanwhile, USA was the world leader in 2014 with 16 international victories in 24 matches.

The fact is, women’s football in Africa does not get the kind of preparation it requires and when do they get some type of package, it’s usually ahead of major tournaments.

Until it is properly funded with or without tournaments looming, it is not enough to have quality players. There’s only so much talent can give you. Preparation makes up the rest which is KEY.

 

b) To whom less is given even lesser should be expected

 This is the reverse of ‘to whom much is given much is expected’.

On a large scale, this explains Africa’s incessant poor world cup outings. To start with, how much attention is being given to women’s football on the continent starting from the leagues, in terms of publicity, facilities, salaries and sponsorships? Even arranging international friendly games with teams from other continents requires funds not goodwill.

For a continent that is largely dependent on its home grown talents to do exploits in national colors, the leagues have to be taken seriously, investments have to be made and who says it cannot yield dividends like that of the men.

“Enow told me the Cameroon league at home hadn’t played regular football for a year and a half,” an African women football expert Kehinde Adeogun explained to The Guardian recently.

“It’s stop start. He’s hoping this World Cup and the exposure the team have had will encourage the federation to ensure the league at home runs properly. That’s the legacy he wants from this World Cup: sustainability.”

The Nigeria Women Premier League on its part is being marred by walkovers and the problem is always financial; salary issues and the likes. This is one major reason a parent will stand in the way of a girl child’s dream of becoming a professional footballer. The ones already in the system daily seek pastures of any kind- ranging from slightly green to way greener- to leave the shores of their home nation.

Also speaking to The Guardian, Janine Anthony, another sports journalist with bias for African women’s football stated,

“It’s only every four years that people care about women’s football and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s time for the federations to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. All we’re asking is just a little bit of what the men get. Because there’s so much catching up to do.”

For those who didn’t know…

The result?

Four of Asia’s five Women’s World Cup representatives progressed to the last 16 after Australia, Japan, China PR and Korea Republic all survived the group stage. Never before has the continent sent a quartet of teams through to the knockout phase, and even Thailand – the odd team out – marked their debut appearance with a historic victory against Côte d’Ivoire.

Aha! Compare and contrast:

Here’s a timely message from seasoned sports journalists to the Nigeria Football Federation.

Now, If you think it’s just the advocates who are clamoring for change, here is what the Professionals had to say.

Enow Ngachu

“We need to develop women’s football in Africa. We need good organisation, we also need to create as many clubs as possible. If we could have sponsorship it would be good.

“We have the talented players. The problem African nations face is preparation.

“The day we are prepared well an African nation will be able to win the World Cup.”

Clementine Toure

“I want to make an appeal to not only our federation, but to all of Africa, that women’s football has arrived.”

Canada 2015 has been a period of reawakening.

Or let’s cut to the chase, the same old story!

We CAN change this script.

It’s become too old and we’re better than the story just told!

First published in Sporton.ng

Leave a Reply