By Paul Bassey
I followed the Confederation Cup with keen interest. I wonder who did not. The rights acquired by the BroadcastingÂ Organisation of Nigeria (BON) further brought the cup nearer to Nigerians and with it, the attendant excitement.
The Confederation Cup was also expected to be a dress rehearsal for the FIFA World Cup scheduled for this time next year. Dress rehearsal. Yes, yet it was not lost on Africans that should anything go amiss the cup proper stood threatened.
The Confederation Cup was to test the organizational capabilities of the Africans. It was to test run their communication capacity, transportation, securityâ€¦..just name it. Above all, FIFA needed to gauge the readiness of the infrastructure.
The South Africans put in their all, determined to put out a first class event and by yesterday, they could stand tall, proud to have achieved, convinced that the World Cup has not only come to stay but that they are likely to deliver just as they did with the Confederation Cup.
Let us not lose sight that along the line, certain distractions surfaced. First was the Vuvuzela factor. This unique South African horn was believed to be distracting the players and they complained to FIFA President.
Blatter came out to say though he shared the worry of the players there was nothing he or his organisation could do as the Vuvuzela was more of a culture than the nuisance which the world wanted to portray.
The Vuvuzela issue paled into insignificance when placed side by side with the theft case reported in the hotels that housed Brazil and Egypt. The Egypt case became so pronounced that the South African media took up arms insisting that if the Egyptians were robbed they would have patronized prostitutes who woke up while they slept and carted away their money and belongings.
This report reverberated in Egypt where the angry press, pained by the scandalous loss to a USA side they thought would have been taken to the cleaners, tore the players apart, dubbing them unpatriotic and the shame of a nation.
That loss to the USA was an African loss. It was felt throughout Africa. Many looked forward to the representation of two African countries in the semi-finals of the Confederation Cup, an historic feat of sorts.
Before the Confederation Cup, I wore the face of resignation, brooding over the absence of Nigeria at the world stage. I thought about the days when it could have been Nigeria, not Egypt or South Africa representing the continent at such a global football tourney. I selfishly reasoned that Egypt and South Africa, especially South Africa will not likely represent Africa well given its patheticÂ football record.
Was it not the same South Africa we beat home and away, one that we hadÂ knocked out of the World and Nations Cup, but for their privileged automatic qualification status as host? Meanwhile, football superpowers were streaming into townâ€¦..Brazil, Spain, Italy â€¦.the best of the best.
By the time the competition started, I was forced to eat my words. The Egyptian showing against Brazil was a grade A performance. What a match. As Africans we felt proud.
We joined the Pharaohs to protest what we thought was a television play back aided goal. As if the god (or goddess) of soccer was in sympathy, ready to dealÂ out justice, the Italians were to suffer in the hands of the enraged Africans.
I suddenly looked at the Egyptians as potential champions. I said to myself, If the Pharaohs can play as well as they did against Brazil and Italy, then nothing would stop them from lifting the Confederation Cup. I saw a team that paraded confident and fit players,who were not tired of running at the opposition.
What impressed me most in the Egyptians was their ability to release cannons from every angle. How do you score goals when you do not shoot at goal?
So confident, I believed the match against the USA was going to be a walk in the park. How wrong. In utter shock, the Africans fell woefully, exiting the competition in a negative media blitz. I quickly say however that, the exit apart, I still have a great respect for the gyptian team. I believe that if they get another chance to be at the world stage, they will more than deliver.
The Bafana Bafana are the other side of the African coin. For a tournament to succeed, FIFA, CAF and indeed other federations and associations crave a commendable run for the host. The longer the host stays in the competition, theÂ Â more the fans troop in and the longer you are likely to sustain the interest.
Despite South Africaâ€™s touted organizational savvy, the on the field strength of the Bafana Bafana was an underground worry even as the South Africans went shopping for the most expensive Brazilian coaches without corresponding matches in the quality of available manpower.
The South African problem was further aggravated when established stars decided to play truant and the coach decided to call their bluff, not caring whose ox was gored.
For the team therefore, the Confederation Cup was also an avenue to test the squad in advance of the World Cup. What a test. The Bafana Bafana came alive during the semi-final match against Brazil, a match that many believed was going to be one sided. That the kings of world football will roast the average South Africans, but it was not to be. I have always spoken about losing gallantly.
That if you give your all, like the South African players did, if you fight with all your strength and falter, the nation will lift you up with a smile. That is the South African example.
Today, the Bafana Bafana believe they can do it. After playing almighty Brazil to a standstill, after receiving the commendation of a grateful nation, the Boys now believe.
I want to believe that nothing is lost on the Super Eagles as they prepare for that final showdown with Tunisia on September 6.
I have decided to sidestep the USA example and pick up African experiences so that I may not be accused of going too far. But who, in the whole wide world, would have believed what the Americans did, if not to emphasize that he who dares, can?
The Ivoriens and the Ghanaians are classic examples of teams with hundred percent records, one leg each in South Africa. We must endeavour to use these examples as stepping stones to success. In the past we were the role models, not any more, yet we have opportunities to get back where we belong. After Tunisia, the Kenya challenge at away will also loom large.
Before now, the Tunisians enjoyed the luck of the draw, with two consecutive home matches and what they needed to do was to win them both and fly to South Africa. Now the pendulum has shifted to the Super Eagles of Nigeria. With two home matches and just one at away, qualification is in our hands.
THINGSÂ AREÂ GETTINGÂ BETTERÂ ATÂ THEÂ AFN
Have you come across Chief Solomon Ogba recently? I have and what an experience. If you come across this former commissioner of sports in Delta State, donâ€™t talk track and field because if you do, then be ready to listen for an hour or two.
The AFN is the only association that has held two classics to date. By next month, the grand prix and the National championship will occupy pride of place just as our youths fly out for an international championship.
Chief Ogba has been infected with the athletics bug. Last Thursday he was at the headquarters of Mobil Producing Nigeria to say THANK YOU for 20 years sponsorship of National track and field and ended up reeling out facts and figures that will make any association chairman go green with envy.
Just from Trinidad and Tobago where he superintended over the resurgent of potential Nigerian stars, Chief Ogba is already talking about showcasing the 20th edition of the championshipÂ that will hold in Abuja July 23 and will want NNPC and Mobil to DO A BIT MORE, THANK YOU.
See you next week.