Eagles", Go Africa!
By: James W. Harris
August 10, 2001
After months of anticipation and some "wrecked" nerves, it is now history that Nigeria's very talented Super Eagles did clinch Africa's last berth for the upcoming World Cup tournament that is slated to be held in Korea/Japan in 2002 by convincingly beating Ghana's Black Stars 3 - 0 almost two weeks ago in Port Harcourt.
As badly as we would have preferred our own Liberian Lone Star to have taken that last spot and go all the way to soccer's big league, which is held every four years, we must, in all sincerity, CONGRATULATE, the Super Eagles for a job well done. For Nigerians, this was a major victory and a very "sweet" one at that, given the tension long before the game even begun.
As soon as the whistle was blown to start the game, it was evident that Agali, Kanu, Okocha, West and the rest of the "boys", did go all out to play as demonstrated by their brilliant performances. From the outset, the Nigerian "killer striker", Victor Agali, immediately delivered on his promise to score more goals for his country as he had been challenged earlier on to do. And by so doing, he guaranteed that nothing stood in Nigeria's way of taking another shot at the mundial
In Nigeria's recent history, the sport of soccer has really become a "big business" and a profession of choice for many young Nigerians, who are usually in high demand in European leagues, along with other talented and skillful Africans.
In the same breath, we must also commend Emmanuel Osei Kuffour and his Ghana Black Stars teammates for their efforts, even though they certainly didn't do as well as they were expected. Notwithstanding, there will always be another chance for them and other national teams, so there's no genuine reason to be despondent or disappointed about the outcome of that all important match.
And for our own "darling" Lone Star and world-renowned striker, George "Oppong" Weah, we cannot be sufficiently thankful for all that they have done for their war-weary country, Liberia. They will forever give hope to the Liberian people and individually be our heroes. But as much as we would have wanted them to succeed, especially, "Oppong", in realizing his dream of playing in the World Cup, the bankrupt Taylor government really does not deserve the kind of notoriety their participation in the tournament would have brought the besieged nation. Maybe, that's why it turned out like the way it did, despite our strong support and admiration for George Weah and the Lone Star.
But now that Africa has finally determined which teams will represent her at the forth coming World Cup, it's incumbent upon all Africans on the continent and those in the Diaspora to collectively rally behind their teams - Senegal, South Africa, Cameroon, Tunisia and Nigeria. They definitely need our unflinching and loyal support so that they can succeed in Korea/Japan.
As it was proven during the qualifying rounds, soccer or football as it is widely known across the continent, has become something "larger" than just a sport, especially in Africa. It has undoubtedly become that single "unifying" force that's holding people together amidst the chaos and tyranny plaguing Africa. Since they seldom win on the political and economic fronts, Africans feel a sense of accomplishment and pride whenever they win on the soccer pitch.
For Africa's many die-hard soccer fans, this past qualifying season will always be remembered as a special one as nations after nations fought desperately for their battered pride. But no matter what we thought about the umpiring or other aspects of the game, as Africans, we must now honestly put aside our personal differences and move forward together to achieve better things for our peoples.
For example, there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly, on the part of African governments, to improve sports overall in their respective countries so that the upcoming generations of national stars can have what they would need to excel. This is where African governments can learn from their European, North American and South American counterparts, or even Asia, about just how to turn a sport like football into a money making venture. Of course, without heartlessly exploiting the players.
By considering seriously to improve the basic physical facilities for soccer in their various countries, African governments would be accomplishing two things: (1) These facilities could be used as a good breeding ground for up coming soccer stars, who could then possibly make it all the way to playing professionally in Europe or elsewhere, thereby, earning otherwise huge financial incomes. Some of that income would then obviously find their way back to the players' home countries, uplifting those often-weak economies. We have seen this recently in the case of Liberia's George "Oppong" Weah; Nigeria's Taribo West; and Ghana's Samuel Kuffour, amongst many others. These "world-class" players are not only earning unusually high incomes in Europe, but they are also "humanely" spending some of their hard-earned money to support their individual charity projects at home. In addition, they also use their money to support other family members in their respective countries, thus contributing to their home economies again.
And (2): By "maintaining" and thoroughly using these facilities for games and other activities, like, concerts, African governments would be generating much needed revenue that could then be used to finance whatever development projects they (governments) want to undertake, as long as "corruption" is kept in check. From my own experience, such funds have quite often been consumed "illegally" in the past by the government official (s) placed in charge of them. Frankly, this should not be the case, because the public's money does not belong to any one person or group of individuals.
As we can see from the examples above, the sport of soccer, or any sport for that matter, could really be advanced in Africa for the good of society, besides just giving hope to a nation's "severely depressed" population. Another good example would be that of DR Congo's prominent basketball icon, Dikembe Mutombo's personal efforts to build a modern-day hospital in his home country with his own money to serve the people there. Such an effort is indeed laudable!
As African football ends yet another chapter that was somewhat filled with anxiety, hope, disappointments and national spirit, we say to the teams that will represent our "motherland" in Korea/Japan next year - go forth confidently with all our support and blessings. Guys, please go and win just one more for Africa!