Sharuko on Saturday
THE British media celebrated wildly when Germany, their biggest European football rivals, finally proved that —just like everyone else — they were also mere mortals as, for the first time in 80 years, they failed to negotiate their way beyond the first phase of a World Cup.
The very Germans who have won four World Cups, compared to just one for the English, who have been runners-up four times in the tournament, who have won the Euro Championships, compared to none for their rivals from England.
The very Germans who have made it to 14 finals in the World Cup and the Euro Championships, compared to just one appearance on the World Cup and none in the Euros for the English, and the very Germans who arrived in Russia as the defending champions.
A nation that has perfected the art of writing success stories in major football tournaments, whose last failure to go beyond the first round of the World Cup was in 1938, and it needed a replay in a 2-4 defeat by Switzerland in Paris back then, to knock them out.
A country that had never finished outside the top three at the World Cup for 20 years, the last time coming when they were beaten 0-3 in the quarter-finals by Croatia at France ’98, only to bounce back in spectacular fashion to reach the final at the next World Cup.
The ultimate writers of success stories at this tournament where they had featured in eight of the last 16 previous World Cup finals had, somehow, failed in Russia.
Impromptu parties exploded in English offices, bars, restaurants and houses once the South Koreans scored the second goal that confirmed the Germans’ humiliating exit from the 2018 World Cup with some English fans declaring that even if their team failed, in Russia, it would not matter at all.
England and Germany might all be European nations, but for their fans, failure of one of the countries at the World Cup presents them with a reason to celebrate wildly, and success for the other nation provides them with a reason to plunge into mourning.
Four years ago, the World Cup was in Brazil and, ahead of the tournament, South America had a chance to equal the number of times which their bitter rivals, Europe, had triumphed in this global showcase with countries from UEFA having then won 10 times and countries from CONMEBOL having won nine times.
One would have thought South Americans would have united, in trying to ensure that one of their nations ended up winning the 2014 World Cup so that they equal the number of times their European rivals have triumphed in this tournament.
However, the grim reality on the ground was totally different and the intense rivalry that exists between the South American countries, just like the one that also divides the European nations, was captured in the famous quote by Rio de Janeiro mayor, Eduardo Paes, ahead of the tournament.
“If Argentina beat Brazil, in the final, I’ll kill myself,” Paes said. “They have Messi and the Pope. They can’t have everything.”
For the people of Brazil, in the event that their team didn’t win the 2014 World Cup, it would be better off if it was won by a team from outside South America and the same was also true for the people of Argentina and even the people of Uruguay.
Each nation for its own and God for them all, that has always been their attitude when it comes to the World Cup, with their geographical location — as either South Americans or Europeans — having no relevance, whatsoever, in driving them to back the cause of a country from their continent in the World Cup.
BRAZIL HUMILIATION, ARGENTINE JOY AND AFRICAN BROTHERHOOD
When hosts Brazil suffered a seven-goal semi-final humiliation, at the hands of Germany, the result sparked wild celebrations in Argentina.
And, with Argentina playing their semi-final against the Netherlands the following day, retailers in Brazil recorded a surge in the number of orange Dutch national team jerseys that were bought by millions of Brazilian fans who swiftly transformed their loyalty to support Holland in their battle against Messi and his teammates.
“Our rivalry with Argentina is historic,” a Brazilian businessman, Guilherme Samora, told Reuters. “If Afghanistan were playing Argentina, we will be wearing Afghan shirts today.”
Argentina fans, during both that semi-final, in which they beat the Dutch on penalties, and in the final against Germany, kept singing a song with the lyrics, “Brasil, Decime Qué Se Siente” which, translated, meant “Brazil, Tell Me How It Feels.”
Thousands of banners were displayed by the Argentine fans, in which they celebrated the Brazilians’ seven-goal capitulation and there were more offensive songs mocking Brazil’s humiliation than those targeted to the two teams they met in the semi-final, the Dutch, and in the final, the Germans.
For the Brazilians, to have Messi and his teammates, trooping into their Maracana for a crack at the World Cup title, was as horrible as it could get, to many worse than their team’s seven-goal thrashing by the Germans in the semi-final, and most of them cheered the Germans.
This is in sharp contrast to what happens in Africa where we are taught, or we are expected, to support our African brothers when it comes to the World Cup irrespective of the rivalry that exists between us and them when it comes to this game.
I come from a generation where it has been normal for us to support any team from the continent at the World Cup, celebrating their achievements as being representative of our achievements, basking in the feel-good tale of an African success story, without asking any questions, without expecting any answers.
Like embracing Roger Milla as our hero, with every goal he scored at the World Cup in Italy in 1990 making all of us celebrate as if he was playing for the Warriors, and with his dance at the corner flags, being adopted by all of us as an expression of our happiness, our freedom and our African way of parading our triumph.
A generation that has cried, loud and long, when we feel that one of our African representatives – as was the case at the 1982 World Cup – has been given a raw deal and, as was the case with the Black Stars of Ghana in South Africa eight years, the adventure ended in such heartbreaking fashion, we all ended up hating Luis Suarez.
A generation that has always carried the burden of that nine-goal embarrassment of the Congolese at the 1974 World Cup final by Yugoslavia, as if it was suffered by the Warriors, a generation that has been telling its kids that “WE have never won the World Cup,’’ with the “WE’’ being a representative of Africa rather than our individual countries.
I was a carefree eight-year-old Grade Two schoolboy when Tunisia became the first African nation to win a match at the World Cup with their impressive victory over Mexico in Argentina, was a 20-year-old college boy when Milla and his Indomitable Lions shone brightly at Italia ’90.
And I was there in South Africa, as a 40-year-old seasoned football writer, when the Black Stars story ended in such heartbreaking fashion.
I have always generated a lot of pride in my African identity, never been one who cursed my fate as to why I was never born a European, an American or an Asian, someone who believes that there is something special in being from Africa.
I am fascinated by African heroes, and that probably explains why I named my son Kalusha, in honour of the only Southern African star to be crowned the African Footballer of the Year in 1988 — the Zambian legend Kalusha Bwalya.
That is why I always argue that Moses Chunga was a natural talent who would probably have starred in any of the Five Big League of Europe — EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and the French to-flight — if he had played after the turn of the millennium.
And why I argue that, in terms of natural talent, any global list of the top 10 footballers who were born just to play football, which doesn’t include Jay Jay Okocha, is not only fake, but also an insult to everything African, the very flawed, and biased views towards Africa, which portray us as an inferior group of people.
BUT, TIMES ARE CHANGING, AND THAT AFRICAN SPORT BROTHERHOOD IS NOW BEING CHALLENGED
Times, though, are changing and the bond of African brotherhood, which has always bound the people of my generation to blindly support teams from the continent at the World Cup, is now being challenged by a new generation that believes it should not always be like that.
A few days ago, Yvonne Mangunda, who works for our sister radio station, StarFM, as a sports presenter, and is a fellow ambassador on the “We Are Football’’ World Cup social media programme run by Castle Lager, asked this very big, if not sensitive question:
“Why is it in Africa we have a tendency of supporting countries from this continent at this showcase?’’
It triggered a lot of debate, a lot of soul-searching and provoked quite a storm as some tough questions were asked, some tough words and phrases were used with a big constituency asking why it should be considered right that we all should be supporting countries that are effectively representing their national interests:
After all, argued this constituency, the national anthems that were sung before each game were not ‘’God Bless Africa,’’ the continent’s anthem, but the ones that specifically belong to these countries from this continent that were in action in Russia?
Why did we have to root for the Nigerians, the Egyptians, the Moroccans, the Tunisians and the Senegalese, at the World Cup in Russia, when the flags the five countries were flying were their nation’s flags, and not the flag of the African Union, the one with a map of the continent, a rising sun and some gold stars planted on a dark green background?
Why was it politically correct that the fans in Brazil would never support Argentina, or vice-versa, at the World Cup, even when they were from the same continent, and why was it considered correct that fans in England would never support Germany, or vice-versa, even when they were from the continent?
Why would it be considered right, for us, to support the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon at the ’94 World Cup finals, simply because they were from Africa, when the same country had used some unorthodox means to beat our Warriors in Yaounde in the final game of the qualifiers to book their place in the United States?
Remember our coach Reinhard Fabisch, waving some United States dollar notes at the referees at that controversial match, suggesting they had allegedly been paid by our hosts to ensure our Dream Team would not make it to the ’94 World Cup finals, with the German gaffer being handed a one-year ban for that?
Why then would we be expected to support such a team, which we believed did not deserve a place at that World Cup, and had only gone there because our Warriors had been given a raw deal in the final match in Yaounde, simply because they were from this continent?
Wouldn’t it have made sense, as this new generation of fans rightly ask, that we should have celebrated the Indomitable Lions’ six-goal humiliation by the Russians at that World Cup as confirmation they were paying for the sins of robbing us a deserved place at that showcase, rather than mourn that embarrassment, as a sad day of African football?
Why should it be considered right to suddenly forget the way Highlanders were robbed by Sable de Batie in a CAF Champions League qualifier, with the Cameroonian side using unorthodox means to overhaul a 0-3 first leg defeat, now that their country was at the World Cup?
Why should we suddenly forget the way Dynamos were robbed in Abidjan in the final of the ’98 Champions League and support Cote d’Ivoire in the World Cup simply because they were a team from Africa when the football playing field on the continent, which at times result in nations that don’t deserve to be at the World Cup featuring there, is not even?
Why should we suddenly find it right to support Morocco, simply because they were now at the World Cup, when the same country refused to host the 2015 AFCON finals because they feared West Africans would bring Ebola to their doorsteps?
And why should we support Tunisia, simply because they were now at the World Cup, when some people in the same country somehow choose to ill-treat our rugby national team players, as a people who deserved to be thrown into a sub-standard lodge, as was the case this week?
In Tunis, during the 2004 AFCON finals, my Tunisian cab driver told me he would one day love to come and visit Africa.
Where is the African brotherhood when the CAF leadership, as was the case with Issa Hayatou and his cronies, can decide in the comfort of their hotel rooms to strip Zimbabwe of her rights to host the 2000 AFCON finals — simply because Southern Africa had rebelled against their decision to vote for their man in the FIFA presidential poll in 1998 — and some of the African nations, instead of sympathising with us, quickly declare their intentions to replace us as hosts?
Eleven African countries, including Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia who were the worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, decided not to vote for Morocco in that country’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the Southern bloc where colonialism was felt longest, also cast their vote against the Moroccans and there must be a reason for that, maybe the issue related to the Saharawi people who remain controlled by Morocco.
How then, this new generation is now asking, do you expect every African to just support Morocco at the World Cup simply because it’s from this continent?
When we knocked out the Pharaohs in that replayed World Cup qualifier in 1993, an Egyptian sports magazine, Al Ahlawiya, exploded in rage after a replay was ordered with a commentary headlined — “DIRTY PLOT AND BACK SLAVE.”
Of course, its views were not representative of the majority of Egyptian people towards us, but the magazine provided some fascinating insights into what others on the continent think about us.
“The African referees are still living in the days of racial discrimination. They show their hatred on everything that is white. They haven’t forgotten that they are slaves and, naturally, there is a great difference between the masters and their slaves,” thundered Al Ahlawiya.
“They look at everything that is white with a sore eye because their hearts are filled with hatred. Definitely, we have been afflicted to great pain with those blacks in our last match against Zimbabwe on February 28 that ended 2-1 in favour of Egypt.
“The match was handled by the wild bear called (Jean-Fidel) Diramba from Gabon. Spite and hate against Egypt and its people was clear. There was conspiracy from the Zimbabwean team, the referee, linesmen and commissioner who connived against Egypt.
“It was clear the referee was sympathising with his black tribesmen. This is not an exaggeration or is it the first time that Africans have treated us like this and have a passion for their black race. They hate Arab teams.’’
So many questions, about this African World Cup brotherhood, and so few questions.
To God Be The Glory
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!