Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Africa's gold rush relies on supporting cast

The start of the CAF qualifying tournament in Morocco this weekend is the latest step on the road to London 2012. At present, six countries have secured their places at next year's Olympic football competition and another eight teams will battle it out over the next fortnight for the right to represent Africa next year.

But while the continent has enjoyed enormous success in a competition that is viewed with contempt by many fans in the UK (especially Welsh 400 metre hurdle champion Dai Greene), the reluctance of European clubs to allow their players to compete in the qualifiers could mean the strongest countries don't even make it this time.

Since it became an under 23 competition in 1992, Olympic football has been used by many countries as a useful stepping stone to full international football. Africa's record of two golds and a silver in the last four tournaments is second only to South America in the same period as the exposure on a global stage helped launch the careers of numerous superstars including Nigeria's Nwankwo Kanu and Samuel Eto'o from Cameroon.

This time, 2004 and 2008 gold medal winners Argentina have already failed to make to London as Brazil and Uruguay beat them to it but the weakened sides that will line up next week in Morocco may mean Africa's best chance of redressing the balance is lost.

Whereas Brazil could call on the ability of Santos striker Neymar and several European-based stars as they thrashed Uruguay 6-0 booked their place in the 2011 South American Youth Championship that doubles as the Olympic qualifier, Nigeria were denied permission to use several key performers like VVV Venlo winger Ahmed Musa and captain Lukman Haruna from Dynamo Kiev.

Likewise, South Africa will attempt to emulate their only appearance at the Olympic football tournament at Sydney 2000 without the likes of Thulani Serero, Andile Jali and new Swedish Player of the year May Mahlangu. The stumbling block is that the tournament falls outside Fifa's international dates and coaches are left with little choice but to try their luck with the best they can muster.

It wasn't always like that. Nearly 12 years ago, Benni McCarthy and Aaron Mokoena - then of Celta Vigo and Ajax Amsterdam respectively - helped the South African side known as 'Amaglug-glug' famously beat Brazil in the group stages but still failed to make it out of their group.

Making it that far this may be a tall order for a squad that contains limited experience of playing overseas. Egypt and hosts Morocco will probably be the teams to beat, although the team that finishes fourth overall gets another chance to qualify in a playoff against an Asian side next year.  

Whether anyone of Africa's best will be good enough to challenge favourites Brazil and Spain this time will depend on the strength of the supporting cast.  

No comments:

Post a Comment