The FIFA World Cup is just around the corner and already many are tipping a South American team to lift the trophy. This is not such a wild prediction as this has occurred on all three occasions that the continent has played host in the past, with Uruguay winning in 1930 when hosts and again in 1950 in Brazil, while Argentina won as hosts in 1978. If you wanted to broaden your chances of being right you could say the winner will be from South America or Europe.
It was the great Pele who predicted, – wrongly – “an Afrcan nation will win the World cup before the year 2000.” It is now 2014 and that continent is still waiting for a nation to reach the semi-finals. Ghana one could say were the closest to achieving that had Asamoah Gyan not missed his last minute penalty against Uruguay in 2010.
This time around it will be Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Algeria who head to Brazil to try and make that giant leap for African football.
Not surprisingly with 53 nations in the African continent, and 52 of those vying for one of five world cup finals berths Africa feels the odds are heavily stacked against them. UEFA the governing body for Europe has 54 nations playing off for World Cup Finals berths, but they receive 13 slots. On the other hand European teams have won 10 of the the 19 tournaments; although Italy with four wins and Germany with three means the results are a little skewed. Of course the only other European nations to be victorious are England, France and Spain in 2010.
So should Africa receive more slots at the finals?
The World Cup has for a long time not been about the best teams in the World competing, just the best teams in each region of the world, but is football selling itself short?
When you consider that Senegal, who were the first African team to reach the quarter finals, could not qualify, and neither could the first African team to ever qualify for a World Cup finals, Egypt. Even Morocco who have been a powerhouse in African football, and also the birthplace of Just Fontaine the World Cup Finals highest ever goalscorer, will not be there in Brazil.
South Africa will not be there either, yet with eleven players missing managed to hold a lacklustre Australia who will be in Brazil to a 1-1 draw. As many will rightly point out that was one game, and the difference was Australian managed to compile the results needed to qualify, while South Africa did not. Yet whose qualification path was harder?
With Brazil as the hosts North, Central and South America were given an extra spot meaning that they have nine teams at the finals and Asia/Oceania have the remaining five. Out of the 32 teams competing in Brazil 20 come from Europe or South America, so will it really be such a surprise if a team from either of these continents wins the trophy?
Africa is unlikely to receive any more World Cup places even though players from this continent are the lifeblood of many a club side in Europe. Europe and South America will never relinquish any of the slots that they have fought for over the years and Africa’s representatives sadly lack the clout to force change at FIFA’s top table.
If FIFA is serious about having the best teams at the World Cup, and stopping UEFA inviting the top nations as guests to play in the European Cup, maybe they should open up qualifying. No longer make qualifying a regional affair, but make it a global one. Seed the top teams and then draw pools with teams from Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas and may the best 31 teams qualify. That would certainly stop all of the debate and would be a mouthwatering prospect for fans. With so much money sloshing around in football no one should say the cost would be too much. Sure it may be an issue for the lesser nations, such as Suriname or Southern Sudan, but that is where the game’s ruling body steps in and helps subsidise them. There is no doubt that this way would ensure that the World Cup finals really are contested between the best teams in the world.