CAPE TOWN – It was the legendary Pele who once, many years ago, predicted that by the year 2000 the World Cup would have a winner from the African continent.
It’s now 2018 - and we are still waiting on the Brazilian superstar’s prophecy to come true.
At the tournament in Russia so far, we are still in the group stages, and already we’ve bid farewell to Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria.
Senegal will be in action today when they face Colombia. There have been hard luck tales, the African countries have scrapped valiantly and provided really tough opposition; they’ve given as good as they’ve got and made their weighty presence felt at the World Cup.
On Tuesday night, after the painful defeat to Argentina, Nigeria were sent packing despite an admirable, courageous performance. They were a little under the cosh in the first half, but they came out determined in the second period.
The West Africans unsettled the South Americans and should, really, have gone on to take the game. They got stronger as the match progressed, with Ahmed Musa’s pace always a threat, while Odion Ighalo had opportunities to seal it for his team.
Let’s not even talk about the VAR decision - the nature of technology is the same as any other referee decision: sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn’t.
The point that needs to be made - and this is the key issue - for how long are African countries going to “be competitive” and “come home proud”?
For all the prodigious, and often outrageous, talent available on the continent, the quarter-final stage is the furthest an African team has gone in the history of the World Cup. When will they take up the challenge and forge their way further?
For Nigeria, in that second half, Argentina were there for the taking; the game was there to be won. They had the chances, but they failed to pull the trigger.
And that is the issue: not VAR or the officials or all the extraneous nonsense. In essence, Nigeria needed to be a lot more clinical in finishing off the opposition; and so, if Pele’s prediction is to be fulfilled, it is vital that African teams become the masters of their own destiny.
As for Argentina, they may have seen off Nigeria, but the victory served only to paper over the cracks.
It was abundantly evident to the eye that there are still major concerns with this Argentine squad, with a definite layer of fragility at its root.
They looked good in the first half against Nigeria, especially because of the long-overdue inclusion of Sevilla’s Éver Banega.
Finally, they had a creative presence in midfield and it was his sumptuous pass that picked out Lionel Messi for the opening goal. And, boy, the thigh control from the little maestro was exquisite - in one split second, it demonstrated his genius - and the finish was sublime.
But once Nigeria got into gear, and started to put pressure on the Argentines, the team’s failings were again laid bare: the nervousness, the uncertainty, and the insanity of a player constantly looking for Messi rather than taking responsibility himself.
In the end, Argentina got the job done, but it was far from convincing. Next up are France in the round of 16 - and, one thing’s for sure, Argentina will have to be better.