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« Blood Diamonds: A Rendition of an Apocalypse* | Main | Back-to-back trebles for Cameroon’s Eto’o »

Friday, 21 May 2010


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David Runciman, Friday 21 May 2010

"What the 2010 World Cup clearly shows is that Africa is now a serious player in the world of football. This represents a remarkable turnaround in a relatively short period of time. Africa had no real presence at the World Cup until 1974, when Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) became the first black African team to take part in the finals. (South Africa had planned to send an all-black team to Mexico in 1970, but that was vetoed on the same grounds as the plan to send an all-white team to England in 1966.) Zaire lost all three of their games, scoring no goals and conceding 14. In Brian Glanville's The Story of the World Cup, now in its fifth edition for 2010, Zaire barely get a mention, apart from Glanville noting that Scotland should have beaten them by more than 2-0, but the Scots wilted in the heat. Yet the African team's real mark on the tournament was made during their match against Brazil, when the Zairean defender Mwepu Ilunga ran out of a defensive wall at the sound of the referee's whistle to boot away the ball that had been placed for a Brazil free-kick, while the opposing players looked on with a mixture of amusement and horror.

This became a defining moment for that long-standing cliché of western football commentary: the charming "naivety" of African football. The players were assumed to be skilful, but hopelessly ill-disciplined and childish. When it was subsequently rumoured that Ilunga might have panicked because the Zairean dictator Mobutu had warned the team that if they lost to Brazil by 4-0 or worse he could not guarantee their personal safety (it was 3-0 at the time), this hardly helped the world to take African football seriously. Naivety, it was assumed, went along with deep and sometimes terrifying political consequences.

These lazy assumptions persisted through the 80s and 90s, even as African teams started to win games and to suggest that they might one day even win the tournament. In 1990 Cameroon came within a few minutes of knocking England out at the quarter-final stage (in which case there would have been no tears from Gazza and perhaps no football boom on the back of them), before losing to two late penalties. David Goldblatt, whose superb The Ball Is Round (2006) remains the one indispensable guide to global football, simply records that "in cup football the better team does not necessarily win . . . Cameroon were still the better team". But for Ron Atkinson, commentating on ITV at the time, the match confirmed that African teams were always likely to fall short at the highest level for all the traditional reasons – too excitable, not enough discipline. Lovely fellas, though.

The fact that it is impossible to imagine someone like Atkinson commentating on this year's World Cup – especially not Atkinson himself, whose racist comments caught on an open mike a few years ago all but finished his career – is a sign of how far we have come. No one in their right mind would now dare to patronise African football or footballers, who include some of the best players to be seen anywhere (Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o, Michael Essien). On planet football, Africa has become a force to be reckoned with, and South Africa 2010 is the ultimate symbol of this changing order.."

David Runciman:

2010 World Cup: Is Africa football's unheralded star?
Why for all the hype is the World Cup shaped by, and in the interests of, a European elite?


Tis the season of opiates. French viceroy Biya Paulie will certainly make sure mimbo is added to the mix.

Camerounese and the pan-Cameroonistic sentimentalists see you folks on July 12, 2010 after the Indomitable Lions of Republique du Cmeroun would have won the World Cup!

A P Geofrey

go go go !!! Cameroon.

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