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2022 WORLD CUP: WHY QATAR MAY FAVOUR AFRICAN TEAMS

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Would it be correct to say Cameroun blazed the trail for Africa or that they simply broke the jinx in 1990?.

With stars like Roger Milla, Francois Oman Biyik, Bemjamin Massing, Jaques Songoó, Emmanuel Kunde, Cyrille Makanaky, Stephen Tataw, Paul Mfede, Victor N’dip who once spoke Igbo to me, Cameroun stunned the world when they pipped the defending champions Argentina parading iconic Diego Maradona 1-0 in the opening game and went on to beat Romania 2-1 to top their group.

They lost 0-4 to USSR in their last group match but it didn’t matter to them. They marched on, beating Colombia in the round of 16 to become the first African country to qualify for the quarter finals of the World Cup. It appeared they broke a jix because for all their potentials African teams never got to that level before that feat.

Could they have beaten England in the quarter final? England had the likes of Paul Gascoign, Bobby Robson, David Plat, Stuart Pearce, Terry Butcher, Gary Lineker and Chris Waddle in their team. Waddle was one of the most gifted and most skillful players to have come out of England. England won 3-2. But could Cameroun have beaten them?

Yes, they had the potential. What went wrong with them? Lesley Angu, a Camerounian jounalist took the lead in proffering an answer when some African journalists last week analysed the chances of African teams in the Qatar World Cup that kicks off November 20.

We were in Qatar for the Lusail Super Cup match between Saudi Arabia champions Al Hilal where Odion Ighalo plays and Egypt’s champions, Zamalek. The match was largely to unveil and test run the facilities at the magnificent edifice that will host the 2022 World Cup final match. Al Hilal won 4-1( penalties), after full time score ended at 1-1.

What Angu said of the 1990 Cameroun squad was peculiar with African teams. Discipline. They lack it and they just lose focus when it matters most. It happened to Super Eagles in USA ’94 where they destroyed Bulgaria 3-0 in their first, beat Greece 2-0 to top their group. The world sang their names and the players grew wings.

Their hotel in Mansfield was rowdy. Girls were among the visitors that distracted them. Their coach, Clemens Westerhof could not stomach what he was seeing. He moved to change the hotel. Some of the players revolted. Chinweizu would call it anatomy of female power. “you can have 1000 of it after the World Cup,” Westerhof said. They were adamant. Holiday Inn, Mansfield had two wings, our players were in one wing and some of them had guests in other wing.

The assignment called for sacrifice. Some knew, some didn’t. Crisis ensued. Westerhof went to Hilton, waited for the players to join him. They did not. They did not train for three days. When officials succeeded in convincing Westerhof to return to the team, it was late to do any serious work against Italy.

Out of the four days window for training they worked out only on the eve of the match. If some Eagles had remained focused and not indulged in the sweet things of life they could have beaten Italy for they had the potential to do so. I agree that football is no mathematics Bulgaria they humiliated 3-0 went on to win the third place match.

That team remain Nigeria’s best till date. They had the players to get to the final. Italy that struggled to beat them ended up runners up, losing to Brazil on penalties. They ranked 5 in the world after the World Cup. I refreshed the memories of USA ’94. Duro Ighazuagbe painted a similar picture of how Eagles derailed at France ’98.

After beating France in the opening match in the Japan/Korea World Cup and qualifying for the quarter final, Senegal with players like El Hadji Diof, Cisse, Papa Diop, Salif Diao, Fadiga felt there was nothing more to conquer. Training meant nothing to some of them and that was the end of their journey.

Angu recalled that at the quarter final stage in Italia ’90, Camerounian players felt home-sick. “They had stayed more than one month in camp before the World Cup and by the time they got to quarter final it was like two months away from their loved ones,”Angu said, adding “some wanted their girl friends, some were just tied of the whole thing and by the time they played England the spirit was no longer as high as it was when they started.”

What’s wrong with African teams? If the players are not chasing the things of the world when they should focus on the games their federations will conjure problems by not paying bonuses and allowances or planning to sack their crew mid-way into tournaments.

It was against this background that some African journalists sat in Qatar and analysed that what usually caused distractions to African players may not rear their ugly heads during the World Cup. Top among these are women. There may not be loose girls to distract players in Qatar. The culture there doesn’t allow that.

And if some find their way to the Middle East country they may not be free to publicly seduce anybody. Players may just concentrate on their games. But can restrictions against certain ‘indulgences’ deny people fun at the World Cup? At the world press conference September 8 at Lusail Stadium 70 percent of the questions especially from European journalists were on availability of beer.

Nasser Al Khater of the Supreme Committee repeatedly assured that beer will be available in designated places and some hotels although he warned that visitors are not allowed to bring in alcohol. Must men go after women of easy virtue to enjoy the World Cup? Fans can also be at the World Cup with their wives and families and have fun.

Entertainment will be adequate, going by their programmes and assurances from Hassan Al Thawadi, the head of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy. Arabian cultures and those of other countries will form part of the entertainment. Journalists from all over the world experienced the Dune Bashing in Qatar deserts.

The Safari rides were thrilling. Musical entertainment will feature at the stadiums and many other places like the fan zones. A fan with a ticket will be allowed to invite three more fans. “We want to make this World Cup a carnival for all, a family thing,”Al Khater said. There will be carnivals – musical and cultural displays.

The atmosphere and stadiums are bound to engender good football. There will be thrills, jeers, cheers and emotions that the beautiful game produces. Qatar 2022 is 64 days away. The clock is ticking and the fever is spreading.

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