Former Ghana star Samuel Osei-Kuffour fears Africa will struggle to break the semi-final barrier at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The West African pair of Nigeria and Senegal, added to the North African trio of Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, will represent the continent in Russia, all aiming to better the quarter-final mark achieved by Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010).
“The quarter-finals will be a good level to reach because frankly I don’t think there is enough in the teams heading to Russia from Africa to hope for a semi-final place,” Kuffour told KweséESPN.
“I like Senegal, but I worry if they can hold on when they face teams like Germany, Spain, Brazil and Argentina. Can they be tactically disciplined enough against those sides to win? It is a big issue.”
The former Bayern Munich defender said, “there have been too many instances to suggest African teams lack the discipline to thrive when they face the best sides in the world.
“For me the problem has been the lack of tactical discipline at a certain level,” Kuffour added. “In 2006, there was no reason why Ivory Coast, with the players and team they had, should not have made it out of the group.
“Ivory Coast had very good players again in 2010, but they couldn’t do much with it because it comes down to more than just talent, and that is where the continent has been lacking”, he said.
Kuffour was part of the Ghana team that reached the second round on their World Cup debut in Germany in 2006.
“We got satisfied too quickly,” he claimed. “One win and everything changes, players lose their focus. It happened in 2006 with us. The moment we started doing well, players were no longer showing up for meals on time; some were eating in their rooms and forgot the qualities that took the team that far.”
Former West Ham defender John Paintsil was part of that 2006 Ghana squad and played a key role in the march to the quarter-finals, only to lose on penalties in a dramatic game against Uruguay. The Black Stars missed a penalty in the final minute of extra-time that would have seen them through to the last four, but Paintsil feels it is possible that it can happen in Russia.
“In the three times that African teams have played in the quarter-finals, we have always lost out narrowly,” he told KweséESPN.
“That experience in 2010 is still a very painful one, but it is also one of the reasons why every one of those teams will be very motivated. There has to be a firm belief that it can be done. You need that belief to do well in the World Cup, and in 2010 we had lots of it.
“I have also watched a number of friendly games of the big teams and favourites, and I have not seen anything to suggest African teams will be found wanting at the World Cup.”
Paintsil and Kuffour may disagree on whether an African team can reach the semi-finals, but they both agree on which team will be the continent’s best bet in Russia.
“Senegal for me,” Kuffour said. “They have a balanced squad and if they can stay disciplined in a tactical sense, there is no reason why they shouldn’t make it out of their group and shock a few teams.”
“Senegal has a very good team and the draw in the group stages has been kind to them,” Paintsil added.
“Nigeria may not have won their warm-up games, but we know they always show up in big tournaments”, he said.
…with Gottlieb Baako (firstname.lastname@example.org)