After the first round of games in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and all the African teams have taken to the playing turf in Russia at least once or twice, it is quite obvious that African teams are still surprisingly the weakest. The Europeans are better, the South Americans are better, the Asians are better, even the North Americans are better. We are just not cutting it; even our North African counterparts who are technically better equipped cannot get it done. The question, therefore, is why?
It has been well documented Nigeria’s weakness in set-pieces – we all knew, but we did not expect all African teams to be that bad – now the whole world knows and is obviously exploiting it to their advantage.
I believe Tony Pulis has a future in African football. If I was the president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) I will hire Pulis immediately the World Cup ends as a Technical Director on a four-year contract with the responsibility of tutoring all League coaches in the art of defending and exploiting set-pieces.
Of the six games played by five African teams so far, 10 goals have been conceded and seven of these goals was as a result of the ‘set-piece’. It is nothing new anyway, Nigeria VS France 2014 World Cup Round of 16: 2-0 defeat (Nigeria conceded two goals as a result of corners). Nigeria VS Argentina 2010 World Cup Group Stage: 1-0 defeat (you guessed it, corner-kick goal conceded). Nigeria VS Argentina 2002 World Cup Group Stage: 1-0 defeat (do I need to continue? another corner kick conceded).
The list goes on and on, have we not learnt? The only reason we have not gone further as a nation and as a continent is our weakness at set-piece because most times, good African sides match the nations from all over the world – well till dead ball situations.
In a focus group discussion after Nigeria’s crushing defeat against Croatia, many of the coaches agreed they do not train for set-pieces (at grass-root and professional level). They only brush on it on the last training for a match day – so we are the problem. Therefore, our players are half-baked.
Africa is so far from conquering the world in football, despite the fact that our physical strength is an advantage. Once we invest better in coaching education and proper youth structures, there is the possibility that an African side can mount a World Cup Challenge. But which Federation is serious about it? You guessed right, none!