World Cup lifts Africa to dizzy heights

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JOHANNESBURG, December 22 – African football scaled dizzy heights in 2010 as it staged the World Cup tournament for the first time and received international acclaim.FIFA president Sepp Blatter gave South Africa nine out of 10 in his post-championship report card with security and infrastructure fears proving unfounded.

South Africa had been at the receiving end of a sustained negative overseas media campaign for several years with assurances from officials that preparations were on track continuously ignored.

But the hosts had the last laugh on Friday June 11 as warm mid-afternoon sunshine bathed the capacity 90,000 Johannesburg crowd and a vibrant opening ceremony preceded a 1-1 draw between South Africa and Mexico.

While Africa displayed top-drawer organisational skills, there was less joy on the pitch with South Africa, Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria eliminated after the first round.

Ghana were the sole African survivors of the mini-league cull, and they cut it fine with goal difference earning them a last-16 position at the expense of Australia.

Striker Asamoah Gyan unleashed the extra-time drive which floored the United States only to fire a penalty over via the crossbar that left Uruguay off the hook and the South Americans reached the semi-finals after a shootout.

So a Black Stars side lacking injured midfield enforcer Michael Essien from English champions Chelsea made a quarter-finals exit — the same stage at which Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) departed the World Cup.

Cameroon were the biggest disappointment in 2010, losing their three group matches amid bickering between players over team selections, and the captaincy of star striker Samuel Eto’o left much to be desired.

But the clinical finishing of Eto’o for world, European and Italian champions Inter Milan earned him a record fourth African Footballer of the Year title ahead of Gyan and Ivory Coast skipper Didier Drogba.

Democratic Republic of Congo club Tout Puissant Mazembe ended the decade-old stranglehold of Europe and South America over the FIFA Club World Cup by shocking Internactional of Brazil before losing the Abu Dhabi final to Inter.

Finishing runners-up marked an amazing improvement for the ‘Crows’ from the copper mining hub of Lubumbashi after losing to minnows Auckland City of New Zealand last year and coming second last in a seven-strong field.

Mazembe qualified for the world championship after becoming the first team to twice successfully defend the African Champions League — whipping Tunisian outfit Esperance 6-1 on aggregate in a surprisingly one-sided final.

Egypt also entered the record books by becoming the first country to win three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations titles courtesy of a late 1-0 victory over Ghana in Angola.

The tournament unearthed a new star in Mohamed ‘Geddo’ Nagy, who wily ‘Pharaohs’ coach Hassan Shehata repeatedly unleashed as a second-half ‘super sub’ and finished leading scorer with five goals.

But the exploits of Egypt and ‘Geddo’ were overshadowed by a pre-tournament gun attack on the Togo team coach as it entered the restive Angolan enclave of Cabinda and an assistant coach and an official were killed.

Another low point for Africa was the suspension of FIFA executive committee member Amos Adamu from Nigeria after being trapped in a London Sunday Times ‘sting’ ahead of voting to decide the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.

Adamu, touted in some media circles as a potential successor to ageing CAF president Issa Hayatou, allegedly offered to sell his vote in return for cash and FIFA reacted with a three-year ban from all football activities.

FIFA committee members Amadou Diakite of Mali and Slim Aloulou of Tunisia and former CAF official Ismael Bhamjee of Botswana were suspended for between two and four years for allegedly advising how to bribe.

The embarrassment to Hayatou did not end there with court evidence implicating the Zimbabwe national team in match-fixing on tours to Asia and a fake Togo team playing an international in Bahrain.

And refereeing standards remain problematic with Ghanaian Joseph Lamptey awarding a Champions League semi-final goal scored with an outstretched arm that took Esperance to the final at the expense of Egyptian visitors Al-Ahly.

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