No Place for Trial Runs

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Carlos Kambaekwa So much has been made about the performance of Africa’s representatives at the World’s biggest showpiece, long before the ball got rolled at this year’s FIFA World Cup finals underway in Germany. When the continent’s big guns such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt, South Africa and Senegal fell by the wayside after failing to make the cut for the five berths allocated to the African continent during the month-long prestigious event – many doubting Thomasses including yours truly had serious doubts about the pedigree of debutants Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and Angola as well as regular campaigners Tunisia. I will be the first to admit that most of these football pundits were made to sit up and eat humble pie as Africa’s young and relatively inexperienced Warriors conquer the World with genuine African flair, despite all odds staked against them – ranging from disputes over match fees, bonuses, and all the usual crap which typifies African football when it comes to the big stage. The World Cup is certainly not the place for trial runs and it now appears this has finally dawned upon those responsible for carrying Africa’s hopes to lay her hands on the coveted cup. So far, I must say I’m extremely impressed by the exploits of Ivory Coast though the Elephants made an early exit from the month-long tourney after their narrow back-to-back defeats at the hands of old campaigners Argentina and the Netherlands, who both looked a sure bet to capture the prestigious silverware. The Ivorians came from two goals down to beat the much-fancied Serbia and Montenegro combination in a match of very little significance, after both teams had already been eliminated from the competition. Tournament outsiders Angola, who sprung into the finals, courtesy of their four points tally against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in their African qualifying group, made an impressive start in the tournament, pushing and having their former colonial masters in all sorts of trouble before bowing out by a solitary goal. The Palanca Negras went on to hold highly rated Mexico to a goalless draw and were just unfortunate to concede a late goal against the unfashionable Iranians, which signaled the end of further participation in the competition. Elsewhere, Togo endured countless problems long before preparation for the World Cup finals started in earnest for the tiny West African country – firstly, the team’s mentor and former Super Eagles captain Stephen Keshi was summarily given the boot after the team’s poor showing at this year’s African Cup of Nations finals in Egypt. And when the dust seemed to have settled and the team put up camp in Germany, the trouble started again with players threatening to boycott the matches if their demands for more money were not met which finally led to the resignation of coach Otto Pfister, who rightly acted in defense of his subjects. The German mentor made a sudden U-turn, but the damage had already been done and the players’ minds were probably dysfunctional by the time they took to the field. As I’m penning down these notes now, the Togolese have been eliminated from the tournament although they still have a date with the under-fired French team in their last match. With a little bit of help from upstairs Tunisia should have collected maximum points against Saudi Arabia in their opening match, but lady luck completely turned her cheek on the former African champions as they had to settle for an unimpressive 2-all stalemate. The North Africans almost caused the biggest upset in World cup history when they took an early lead against Spain in their second match, but the late introduction of fantastic captain Raul Goncalves was some kind of a warm aartapel for the ageing Africans. However, the Tunisians still have a mathematical chance of joining Ghana in the last 16 with a victory against Ukraine. Ghana’s Black Stars are currently riding the crest of the wave and could go all the way with yesterday’s well-deserved win over a stubborn United States outfit after seeing off the Czech Republic in their second match. A quick reminder, the Czechs are ranked number two on the FIFA World rankings and to sneak two goals past such opponents without a reply in a competitive match is no chicken feed. Africa has certainly arrived and I for one would not be surprised if the ultimate victory is finally achieved on home soil when the global showpiece comes to the African continent in 2010. After all, France’s Les Blues won the World Cup in 1998 on home soil after dispatching champions Brazil in empathic fashion through the magic of a good number of African sons who could not resist the juicy smell of the Euro – come on, we all know it was a combination of Africans who won the World Cup for their adopted country. And while Africa has made her mark on the big stage – the continent has been left with egg on the face in the aftermath of Ishmael Bahmjee’s tickets scandal, after the long serving FIFA official was caught red-handed while dealing in ticket laundering. Now the fundamental question that needs to be addressed is: was Bhamjee made the sacrificial lamb following widespread allegations of financial irregularities within the World’s Football Governing Body? I strongly believe Bhamjee has been set up to give the envisaged investigation some breathing space while FIFA conveniently points fingers at the poor Bhamjee, and in the meantime pat themselves on the back for apparently practising zero tolerance on corrupt practices – hence the resolution to put Bhamjee on the next available flight back to his native country Botswana. Tickets laundering cannot only be Bhamjee’s business alone – some football associations have been down that road before, and the allocation of tickets to dubious foreign agencies to market the sales leaves quite a lot to be desired – nogal while potential local partners were standing with cap in hand for a share of the cake. My dear readers, watch this space – more shocking news awaits you regarding the sales of World Cup tickets, and in the business of words, some local dudes would have a couple of serious answers to provide. So until next week, I rest my case. Holla my outies, it’s jibbos to apply brakes and call it quits for now, so until next Friday, it’s ADIOS and enjoy the World’s biggest spectacleÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚º!!!