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Africa’s Long Road To 2010 W/Cup

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“The World Cup is coming to Africa, I can’t believe it. It just makes me believe that anything is possible.”

The words of a female DJ as I listened to the radio in Lesotho just recently. An attitude which encapsulates the wonder many are feeling across Africa, still incredulous that the planet’s biggest sports event is coming to the continent.

To the only continent never to have hosted the Olympics nor the World Cup. Until now that is.

For those living in South Africa itself, the incredulity goes even deeper. Twenty years ago, hosting the World Cup was an impossible dream. Still under the grip of apartheid, South Africa was a pariah state, banned from football by Fifa, and the prospect of playing any match, let alone hosting the world, was a mere flight of fancy.

But now we are less than 20 days away from a tournament which many, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, fully expect to change Africa’s poor global standing, broadly known for such negative images as war, famine, HIV/Aids corruption – while the more football-minded simply hope a new playing generation will shine brightly in 10-15 years’ time, as those who grew up inspired by Africa’s first World Cup hit maturity.

“I’m hoping an African side can do really well, perhaps even win it,” says former South Africa defender Mark Fish. “Then we can ask Fifa why we can’t have seven, eight, perhaps even nine teams representing Africa in future World Cups.”

That the World Cup is in South Africa is largely thanks to the efforts of Fifa chief Sepp Blatter and former anti-apartheid activist Danny Jordaan, who has been working relentlessly since 1994 to get the unlikely dream off the ground.

Yet the foundations were laid many years ago. The 1966 World Cup is not the most obvious turning point but that year Africa boycotted the finals in protest at the allocation of one place between Asia and itself at the ‘World Cup’.

The dramatic move,  which came exactly 100 years after the continent’s first recorded football match, worked, for Africa had its own representative at the next finals.

1974 was also a significant milestone. Not at the World Cup though, where the maiden sub-Saharan appearance was a disaster as Zaire (now DR Congo) lost all their matches with a 0-14 goal record.

However, the real nadir came when Mwepu Ilunga infamously ran out of the wall to hammer away a Brazilian free-kick, the African champions attracting widespread ridicule for not knowing the rules.

But that year, Joao Havelange used dozens of African votes to win the Fifa presidency off Sir Stanley Rous, and the game changed forever, booming commercially.

The Brazilian had promised the continent its own prizes in return, which came as the World Cup expanded to 24 teams in 1982, meaning Africa now had two places, while Fifa’s inaugural youth tournaments were held in Tunisia (the U20s in 1977) and Nigeria won (what is now the U17 World Cup in 1985).

Had a certain Mr Dempsey not come along, Africa might already have staged the World Cup but Blatter acted decisively following that voting failure in 2000.

One month later, he oversaw the installation of Fifa’s rotation system and one year later, Africa was chosen to start the new policy, which explains Blatter’s rare popularity here.

“We’re very grateful to Fifa and Blatter,” says Fish.

“The journey of African football has been a long one and South Africa, from the apartheid era to the democratic elections of 1994, has also come a long way. Now it’s a massive step to be hosting the world’s biggest sporting event on our continent.”

Africa has displayed its enormous passion for football time and again, and many more tales will emerge during what could be the most colourful World Cup to date. And with the finals providing the greatest 31-day commercial for the continent, pride will swell from Cape Town to Cairo and from Dakar to Dar-es-Salaam.

In a land crippled by nepotism and corruption, football is a rare meritocracy, an area where an individual can rely on his own talents to move up in the world. By coincidence or not, it’s also one of few areas where Africa does not just live with the best but beats them too.

The life story of George Weah, who rose from a Monrovian slum to be crowned the world’s best footballer in 1995, is still an inspiration to many.

Football even had the capacity to briefly stop his homeland’s civil war since Liberia matches in the 1990s would, to quote the current president, ‘bring sudden voluntary ceasefires between the warring factions’ as they joined their enemies to watch the games.

“It is in our hands to unite our country, our continent and the world in a footballing feast,” South African President Jacob Zuma said recently.

Now where’s that damned vuvuzela?

Edwards is with BBC Sports.

 

Piers Edwards

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… As Coach Expresses Optimism To Qualify For 2026 W’Cup

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Newly appointed Super Eagles coach Finidi George has set his sights firmly on securing qualification for the 2026 World Cup, demanding unwavering commitment from his top players as the team aims to get their faltering qualifying campaign back on track.
Unveiled to the media in Abuja on Monday, Finidi, who succeeded the outgoing Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro, wasted no time in laying out his immediate priorities, two crucial 2026 World Cup qualifiers against South Africa and Benin early next month.
“Nigeria comes first, that’s what I expect from every player I invite. You have to be playing in your club, and you must have the commitment,” Finidi told reporters on Monday.
Recognising the importance of a strong start, the former Ajax winger emphasised the significance of the upcoming clash against South Africa.
“The first targets are to qualify for the World Cup and AFCON (Africa Cup of Nations), and a win over South Africa will set the tone.”
Nigeria currently finds itself in third place in their qualifying group, with just two points from as many games, while South Africa sits second with three points.
Finidi, who has signed a year’s contract with an option for an additional year, acknowledged the immense pressure that comes with leading the national team of a country with over 200 million people.
However, he exuded confidence in his ability to withstand the scrutiny, stating, “I have a tough skin.”
While his salary remains undisclosed, the 53-year-old coach expressed a willingness to prioritise performance over immediate financial rewards.
“The salary is good enough for me, it’s not as much as that of (Jose) Peseiro.
“Money is good, but if you add value to what you do, the money will come. Then they can come and ask ‘Coach, how much do you want?” Finidi said.

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I’m Not Under Pressure, I’ve Tough Skin – Finidi

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New Super Eagles Coach, Finidi George, has underlined that the word pressure is not in his dictionary and appealed for support from key stakeholders including the media.
Speaking after his unveiling yesterday in Abuja, the former Enyimba of Aba coach said; “In life you cannot be afraid. As you see me here, I am a quiet person but I’m not afraid of anything. The worst you can get in football is not getting the result, the best you can get is winning all the time, and I will try my best to make sure that the team functions properly and we start winning games.”
On whether is under pressure to justify his appointment, the coach stressed; “Pressure, I don’t think I have it. I have that tough skin and I want to plead you guys, the media we need your support.
“What is in the contract is boldly written, what the NFF wants and Nigeria in general, but for me personally my first target is to make sure we are in line to qualify for the World Cup. AFCON qualifiers definitely will be coming up soon, but the major step for me is these two games that we have.
“If we can win against South Africa and Benin, we will set the tone.”
During the unveiling ceremony, the NFF confirmed that ex-Super Eagles striker; Daniel Amokachi and Abiden Baruwa will be the assistant coach and goalkeeper coach respectively.
The first assignment for Finidi, who won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995, is to qualify for the 2026 World Cup.

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Amusan Becomes World’s Fastest Woman, Sets New Track Record

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Nigerian sprint icon Tobi Amusan has become the world’s fastest woman in the women’s 100m hurdles after running a world-leading 12.40 seconds.
In a thrilling race, the world record holder secured the victory, leaving behind Danielle Williams, the world champion, who clocked her best time of the season at 12.46 seconds. Following closely was American Christina Clemons, claiming the third spot with a time of 12.54 seconds.
This triumph means the Nigerian athlete has now claimed the top spot globally, surpassing American Tonea Marshall’s previous record of 12.42 seconds set in late April.
Tobi Amusan’s impressive win arrives just two months before the Paris 2024 Olympics, setting the stage for an exciting competition ahead.
John Enoh, the minister of sports development, on his X handle congratulated Amusan over the feat.
Take your flowers Tobi Amusan, you stormed to an emphatic win in the women’s 100m hurdles at the Jamaica Athletics Invitational, clocking a time of 12.40s (0.9), a World Lead time!
You defeated World Champion Danielle Williams, who came 2nd in 12.46s, while Christina Clemons.
“Take your flowers Tobi Amusan, you stormed to an emphatic win in the women’s 100m hurdles at the Jamaica Athletics Invitational, clocking a time of 12.40s (0.9), a World Lead time! You defeated World Champion Danielle Williams, who came 2nd in 12.46s, while Christina Clemons was 3rd in 12.54s,” he wrote.
“Tobi, you keep making our country proud. Paris Olympics is around the corner, your performance gives us hope just like others, that Nigeria is set to break a jinx. Keep soaring, we are proud of you.”

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