World Cup 2018: France's Victory Proves The Need For Pan-African Soccer Team

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Vive France, vive Africa. Photo: Twitter.

Congratulations to France for beating a great Croatian team 4-2 to win the World Cup.

As the whole world noticed, France fielded a team made up almost entirely of players who were either born in Africa or who trace their immediate ancestry to the continent.

If a Pan-African Team can win the World Cup for France why not for the African continent too?

In 2026, if the recommendations of a FIFA committee are carried out the total teams that play in the World Cup Finals will expand to 48 from 32; Africa will get the most extra slots --four more-- expanding Africa's representation to nine from the current five.

How can Africa perform better in the World Cup finals? By fielding better organized and managed teams.

To begin with, FIFA should allow one of the four new slots reserved for Africa to be filled by a Pan-African Team (TeamAfrica) whose players are selected from all regions of the continent, even if this involves changing the world soccer governing body's rules.

The quality of play by African soccer teams in the World Cup has improved dramatically over the years; more African players are in competitive soccer leagues around the world. Both Nigeria and Senegal almost made it to the second round in the just-concluded World Cup in Russia. In fact, had these teams not been denied penalties in one of their games each, they would have been in the knockout stage. Morocco also played top notch ball.

Almost isn't good enough. All five African teams -- the others were Egypt and Tunisia-- were eliminated in the first round.

This is the first time in 36 years that Africa failed to send a team to the second round. This as a setback, since, in 2014, two African teams, Algeria and Nigeria, made it to the second round. Three African teams have also made it all the way to the quarterfinal in the past: Cameroon in 1990; Senegal in 2002; and, Ghana in 2010.

How can African soccer gain from past achievements? What are the impediments that frustrate progress?

France's victory today proves that the problem isn't the skills level of African players. The key obstacle for most African teams is lack of financial resources (arising from non-allocation of monies, or embezzlement in some cases), which causes the related problem, disorganization. Political intrigue also prevents the selection of the best players in some cases.

There is a strong correlation between financial support and performance. The late Congolese dictator Mobutu made sure the country's soccer program was well-funded. As a result the Leopards won two African Nations Cup trophies and qualified for the 1974 World Cup. (Of course the despot ignored everything else and stole billions of dollars).

TeamAfrica would be financed by all the 54 African countries; and the Sahrawi Democratic Republic once Moroccan occupation ends. This means players --and coaches-- would be adequately compensated and they would have access to the best training facilities.

Some African teams suffer because ethnic politics translates into players not being selected on merit. TeamAfrica's players would come from all the regions: Southern Africa; East and Central Africa; West Africa; and North Africa.

In order to increase the prospects of the best players making it on TeamAfrica, soccer fans could be involved in the selection via online polling; similar to the way American basketball fans vote for players on All-Star Teams. For example, African soccer fans could select a total of 50 players. TeamAfrica's coaching staff could then select the roster from this pool. The pool could be larger because some of the fan favorites may opt to play for their national teams instead. The final roster would be balanced with about six players from each region.

Soccer fans could also vote for TeamAfrica's coach, who would be compensated at internationally competitive rates. There are many stellar candidates; Senegal's current coach, Aliou Cisse, is one example.

Strong performance by a well-financed, trained and coached TeamAfrica would also pressure national teams to improve their management.

If the other soccer regions want the right to create a Pan-continental team as well in addition to their individual countries' teams --Team Europe, Team Asia, Team America, Team South America, Team Caribbean-- that would even be better. No two Pan-continental teams would play in the same group in the first round; however, they would all qualify for the finals just as host countries do today.

Millions of African soccer fans are tired of having their hopes dashed every four years by early elimination of African teams.

Wouldn't it be ironic if other European countries, also yearning for success, emulate France and deploy Pan-African teams before Africa does?

FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) should consider this proposal. To repeat the same approach every four years and then expect a different outcome is the definition of madness.

Africans are already Pan-African when it comes to supporting African teams in the World Cup. Tens of millions of Africans cheer for any African team that plays in the World Cup. This means that Africans have already been rooting for TeamAfrica.

It's time to create an official Team Africa.

Kwame Nkrumah himself would be impressed by such a move.

Allimadi publishes The Black Star News. Connect via @allimadi or mallimadi@gmail.com

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