Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the saying goes. In the recent round of friendlies what has been clearly apparently is that African teams have work, and homework, to do ahead of the biggest tournament in the world
The starkest difference was visible in Brazil’s win over Ghana. Brazil are the better team of course, but going by the evidence in that match Ghana, for all their individual talent, do not have a collective to compete with such contenders – even if they may have the underlying quality on paper. Any such meeting with contenders at the World Cup may very well be lights out.
And as much we are told it’s better to lose now that during the World Cup, there’s little to suggest that Otto Addo can turn things around things clicking quickly by the sheer randomness that major tournaments can bring. Fans of the Black Stars will be hoping that, somehow, they can.
Tunisia are in a somewhat better place. With a core that has been together for a while, there is a sense that they are a team. The pertinent question, as always, is whether that quality in the squad is enough to compete with the likes of France and Denmark. Brazil, who are one of the favourites for the tournament, steamrolled them in the first half, though the beating was probably more severe because of playing with a man down.
Then there is Cameroon. They are still very much trying to find their identity under Rigobert Song, who is another coach of an African team going into the World Cup with just a handful of games under his belt. Having a coach without the necessary experience raises questions on how quickly he can build a team to compete, and how well he can do it. More worryingly, Song has no other coaching experience and his reluctance to call up some of his key players, in order to give them a rest, goes against conventional wisdom for a coach trying to instil some principles into his team.
Morocco parting ways with Vahid Halilhodzic and handing over the keys to Walid Regragui also gave the latter a handful of games before the World Cup. That they played like a team with enterprise, a fighting spirit, and cohesion in their duels against Chile and Paraguay, gives their fans grounds for optimism.
Regragui was keen to manage expectations though by calling for level headedness, keen not to over-promise amidst the highs and newfound good energy. He was sensible to do so, knowing that there are teams ahead of the curve in recent major tournament semi-finalists Belgium and World Cup 2018 finalist Croatia. Inwardly he will already be wishing that he had more time to work on their weaknesses, such as finding an in-form striker that is a good systematic fit.
In terms of the year they have had, and the preparation they are having, it is easy to understand why Senegal are looking like Africa’s most certain hope. Though they may not play the most kaleidoscopic of football, they are the most stable of Africa’s representatives. You sense that if they don’t do well it won’t be because of the lack of continuity over the years, but because of issues of their own making, of issues that were within the coach’s control.
Aliou Cisse has been at the helm for seven years now, and his journey with the team goes back a few more years before that. What coaches want and need is time and, to his credit, Cisse has earned it.
His attentions, more recently, have turned to systems – like the 3-5-2 he used back in the June AFCON qualifiers against Rwanda – that they can use to overcome the challenges ahead. Other African teams, and specifically coaches of those teams, may be watching on with envy.