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Great individual players but will Africa ever produce a great team?

Graham Fisher in Editorial, General Soccer News 6 Jun 2011


Great players

For many years now we have heard that African football is on the march and that one of the teams will soon be challenging the very best. There have been some notable efforts in the past. Cameroon in 1990, Nigeria in 1994, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana last year, but none of them have quite gone on to really look like winning the big one.


What is becoming increasingly obvious is that individual players from Africa are making more and more of a mark in the game around the World. In Europe, there are many African’s plying their trade at the very top level and a combined African team would certainly be decent.

The BBC’s African sports reporter Piers Edwards recently selected his African team of the season from players earning their money in Europe and you will see that there is some real quality.

The team Edwards selected was as follows:

Carlos Kameni (Espanyol/Cameroon)

Sam Inkoom (Dnipro/Ghana)
Mehdi Benatia (Udinese/Morocco)
Karim Haggui (Hannover 96/Tunisia)
Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Tottenham Hotspur/Cameroon)

Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew (Marseille/Ghana)
Yaya Toure (Manchester City/Ivory Coast)
Seydou Keita (Barcelona/Mali)

Gervinho (Lille/Ivory Coast)

Papiss Demba Cisse (Freiburg/Senegal)
Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan/Cameroon)

Subs: Moussa Sow (Lille/Senegal), Osaze Odemwingie (West Brom/Nigeria), Kevin-Prince Boateng (AC Milan/Ghana), Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese/Ghana), Asamoah Gyan (Sunderland/Ghana).

I’m sure you’ll agree that is not a bad line up.


I can’t promise that I know too much about all of the players Edwards has selected, but I can add a few names who are playing in England and if those he has selected are better than them, then this side would be a match for almost anyone.

The Chelsea quartet of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Salamon Kalou and Jon Obi Mikel aren’t bad for a start! Newcastle’s Cheik Tiote has been a revelation this season and Demba Ba at West Ham and Youssuf Mulumbu at West Brom have earned much praise as well. Alex Song has had a decent season at Arsenal and Blackburn’s Christopher Samba is attracting the attention of many top clubs. I guess Emmanuel Adebayor still counts as ‘playing in England’ so you could add him to the list as well. Adel Taraabt will be playing in the Premier League next season and if he can take the step up, he will also be a force to be reckoned with.


Whilst I think you could pick a formidable side from all these players, I am still not entirely sure that they would be a match for the best Europe has to offer. I wonder how close African football is to catching up with Europe?

1970 was the first time an African side appeared at the World Cup. Morocco earned just one point from their three matches. In 1974 it was Zaire (DR Congo) who failed to pick up a point or a goal.

In 1978 Tunisia were the African representatives and they were unlucky not to qualify out of their group after beating Mexico and drawing with West Germany. There was almost a breakthrough in 1982 with Cameroon going unbeaten but failing to qualify after drawing all three of their games and Algeria winning two of their three games but missing out on goal fifference.


In 1986 Morocco managed to reach the round of sixteen and become the first African side to qualify from the group stages, before losing 1-0 to West Germany. The 1990 tournament in Italy finally looked to have signalled the arrival of African teams when Cameroon made it to the quarter-final and were incredibly unlucky to lose to an England team that they outplayed.

Things stood still in 1994 as Nigeria lost to eventual finalists Italy in the round of sixteen. There was no progress four years later when Nigeria were hammered 4-1 by Denmark at the same stage.


In 2002 it looked as though Senegal might take the next step but lost to Turkey in extra-time in the quarter-final. No progress was made in 2006 as the much fancied Ghana side were taken apart by Brazil in the round of sixteen. Hopes were high last year in the first ever World Cup to be held in Africa, but once again Ghana failed at the quarter-final stage.

In other words, I’m not sure a great deal of progress has been made in the last thirty years or so and that surprises me. Will an African team ever seriously challenge for football’s top prize?


Graham Fisher



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