South African football expert Wright Mbongo celebrates Nigeria's U17 World Cup triumph and questions why his own country cannot match their African rivals.
African nations have become known as World Cup also-rans since it's inception. But Nigeria gave Africans hope after winning the Under 17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, defeating Mexico in the final with a dominating scoreline of 3-0.
I am happy for Nigeria as I am an African. But I am also worried for my country South Africa and asking when are we going to write OUR name in the history books? Can we ever challenge for big honours such as the World Cup - whether it be at senior or youth levels?
The Golden Eaglets' triumph has boosted their senior squad ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with the African Champions now among the favourites to upset some European, South American and Asian nations just like the wonderkids did on their road to the final in Abu Dhabi.
If Nigeria can win the Under-17 World Cup, why is South Africa failing to do the same? Where was the 2010 World Cup hosted? It was in South Africa. But the nation has failed to produce what other World Cup hosts were able to after failing to reach at least the knockout stages of the competition on home soil. I believe the South African Football Association have a lot to learn from the Nigerians for what they have done this year and in the past as this was their fourth Under-17 World Cup crown.
South Africa is blessed with world class facilities. Our stadiums are at the same or better level than some European countries, which should lead to us to being one of the best countries in African football, if not in the world. We have just beaten World and European Champions Spain at the same venue where they won their first World Cup in 2010, which is a good sign. But again, the sad thing is that we will not be in the tournament with the La Roja next year.
The failing of South Africa to reach the World Cup finals after hosting it just three years ago surprised everyone, including myself, particularly after failing to outclass lowly ranked Ethiopia in the qualifiers with the players we have at our disposal. We might not have big names playing for European powerhouses like Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, but we should have been at least knocked out in the playoffs by Nigeria, who I believe can beat anyone on their day. Algeria, who will make a World Cup appearance for the second consecutive time next year, are similar to South Africa in terms of quality players, yet they made it to the finals.
Going back to the Nigeria Under-17s, I expect the senior side to show the same composure and technique that was shown by their young counterparts. Stephen Keshi, the Super Eagles coach, becomes the first manager to have also played for Nigeria in a World Cup. He has my full support and trust. I believe he can lead the African Champions to a semi-finals finish in the competition.
With South Africa now having to target the 2018 World Cup in Russia, my money will surely be on Nigeria to do well in Brazil next year. Let the Super Eagles emulate what the Ghanaians did in the 2010 finals and shock the world.
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