OPINION

African teams must change mindset to winning mentality

The five teams representing the African continent in the ongoing World Cup in Russia all crashed out in the first round of the competition. A lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth is going on in the continent. What could have gone wrong?

From a technical viewpoint, there is absolutely no reason why African teams cannot go all the way. Africa has an embarrassment of riches in football talent. That is why the top leagues of Europe are full of  African stars, from Egypt’s Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), to Senegal’s Sadio Mane (Liverpool) to Nigeria’s Obi Mikel (formerly of Chelsea). They were all at the World Cup, up against fellow players against whom they regularly play — and best. So, African teams are not inferior to any other teams at the World Cup. No, the answers lie elsewhere.

Unquestionably, the teams gave a good account of themselves, and played very good football. Unfortunately, it was sterile football. Most African teams lost at the last moment.  It was very uncanny. Are Africans incapable of laser beam focus? Is it that Africans cannot defend a critical position and are doomed to collapse at the most critical moment? No killer instinct. Nigeria needed four short minutes to qualify for the second round. Senegal just needed a draw. They contrived to falter at the tape.

Indeed, the teams that beat African teams at the last minute refused to believe that they could be beaten by an African team, and they fought tooth and nail until the last minute. As they say, the darkest moments are those before dawn. That is when one must not blink. Unfortunately, African teams just could not keep their eyes on the prize.

Where was the passion for game and country? Where was the will to win? In most games, the teams seemed almost reluctant to go for goal despite dominating possession. Is it lack of confidence to score against Brazil, Argentina and Germany? Imagine, Germany were sent packing by South Korea. Argentina’s campaign was badly damaged by Croatia who dismantled them 3-0. These teams were fearless and full of confidence in themselves. That’s how teams win.

Brazil’s striker, Neymar, sunk onto his knees and shed tears when he scored his first goal. Passion. Do African teams have any passion, or are they merely going through the motions. Yes, one can argue that even Germany went out in the first round. Yeah, but those were defending champions who just had a bad day in the office. They have a winning mentality, and have been winning football tournaments as a matter of course.

African teams are too complacent, satisfied with too little. Their getting to the World Cup was for them the acme. The start of the tournament is only the beginning of a very gruelling campaign, and any team indulging in complacency quickly find themselves thoroughly exposed.

Africa is the sick boy of world football, doomed to forever be handmaidens for other teams. Look at the way Croatia, Belgium and Uruguay are playing. Even if they don’t win, they have declared their intentions loud and clear. What ails African teams is what ails the continent. It is the way the continent handles its affairs.

The African continent abounds in brains, in talents, in resources of all types. But Africa is eating dust! Africa remains the poorest continent despite an abundance of riches.

The basic problem that underlies Africa and keeps it rooted is its culture of fatalism. This has killed all capacity by the African teams to assert themselves. The problem starts within their countries, and manifests itself internationally. Fatalism has sapped all confidence out of Africa.

That is why Africans remain submissive to very harmful cultural practices, and almost universal acceptance of bad leadership at all levels. That is why Africans will mostly deal with their problems through perennial complaints “in bars and chamas,” even when the capacity to deal with those problems are in their own hands.

That is why millions of Africans flock to evangelical preachers who promise them riches if they “plant seeds,” rather than look for wealth the only way it can be generated, through old fashioned hard work. Fatalism blinds them from seeing they all remain poor while their pastors live jet set lives. One could go on and on.

Africans suffer from a lack of focus and tenacity. The finishing touch is absolutely critical to achievement. History tells us of great men and women whose tenacity earned them great rewards. Its called grit, and it was clearly missing in all the African teams in Russia.

How will Africa achieve greatness without focus and tenacity despite all odds? Harsh? Look around you and ask why Africa is in such a sorry state.

Fortunes of African teams at the World Cup will only change when the continent changes its mindset to a winning mentality, a mindset that rejects 2nd best, a mindset that shuns mediocrity, a mindset that demands the best from itself and from all others, especially those in positions of responsibility.

Only then will an African team trot out onto the pitch determined to win because it represents a country and a continent and a people who are proud, confident, assertive, and accept nothing but the best of itself, and of all its citizenry. Until this second liberation of Africa happens, expect early flights home for African teams in all future World Cups, even if all 50 countries of the continent are represented, and all other regions cut their representation by half.

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