Saturday, 10 July 2010

All About The Game

What a month it’s been. The greatest sporting event going on in Africa! The world came to Africa and we welcomed them with the open arms. In the beginning we thought that this would be Africa’s time to shine but turns out that home ground advantage counts for nothing. In any case the wintry weather being experienced right now would be quite hard for us in tropical Africa to handle it I don’t think that’s an excuse. The African football game has come a long way with some of our own plying their trade in the big European leagues and making a name for themselves. Naturally some names like Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Michael Essien come to mind. So with those stars you would think African teams would have done something significant but we’ve been shown that we need to up our game!

However we can not ignore the great run Ghana had even without their big star Essien. They did us proud by making it to the quarter finals and though there exit was under somewhat dubious circumstances they fought bravely and gave a good account of themselves. What’s more being the world under 20 champions the future is bright and the only way to go is up.

If there’s one thing that has made this tournament spicier than most is the unpredictability. Some who were pre-tournament favourites were bundled out and we had quite a number of upsets in the group stages. The finalists in the last tournament both booked early tickets home, one for a lack of ideas the other for lack of discipline which was a huge shame for former world champions. Ha even a final consisting of Serbia and Uruguay was plausible at some point. At one point the balance of football power appeared to have moved to the South Americans but in the end Europe held their own.

Although football is just a game there are some lessons that can be drawn from it. Forrest Gump said that life is like a box of chocolates, I say that life is a game of football- you’ve got to have the right tactics, wisdom it is called. Comparison of life to sport with life with sport is also found in the bible where Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24 “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” Similarly on 11th June 32 teams were in contention for the world cup but only one will be crowned champion on 11th July…

In football to succeed you need the right tactics and in life you need the right wisdom which is the most important thing Prov 4:7 “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” About tactics it’ now obvious that football is very highly tactical gone are they days when people would just kick a ball in the air and somebody would run after it. Also missing which I find sad is the end to end dribbling and trickery that used to be there in the days of old. In fact a few of the early games were boring in that the teams were more interested in not losing than actually winning games! However in spite of that a team like Germany was able to stamp its authority playing positive attacking football. You may keep possession of the ball and have a good defence but in the end the only statistic that matters is goals so you have to play to win.

Another lesson can be obtained from the dismal performance of the African teams especially Nigeria and Cameroon. They play good football but couldn’t pull themselves together in front of goal. A case in point is that of Yakubu Aiyegbeni and his miss of the tournament. Nigeria had found themselves in a very good position where even though they had no points all they needed was a win to take them to the next round but they decided to become their own worst enemies. For African football to get to the next football we need to be more ruthless at finishing like the Germans. So lesson number two is you got to take your chances and well too not having 10 shots on goal and zero on target!

Next up are the underperformers like Italy and France who only have the past to look to. Oh and who could forget England and their favourite song about 1966 the only time they lifted the cup. Italy were reigning world champions coming into the tournament but that counts for nothing on the day and they struggled against lowly opposition such as New Zealand! Lesson number three- the past doesn’t count you have to perform on the day or you start packing!

France made a fool of themselves with their theatrics off the pitch prompting some to say that it was Karma visiting them after that dubious handball that sent them to South Africa. Their display of indiscipline in disrespecting their coaching staff was a blot to an otherwise good tournament. Naturally their lack of discipline translated to poor performance on the pitch. They also had a galaxy of stars but they couldn’t deliver as a team. Contrast this with Germany who were written off by their own Lothar Matthaus as below par without their injured star Michael Ballack. The proved the critics wrong with the best attacking team play of the tournament scoring 4 goals on 3 occasions. Teamwork took them to those great heights; every time they went forward they looked dangerous dues to their speed and accurate passing and good positioning, the hallmarks of good team play. Lesson number four- teamwork will win.

Oh and who could forget the excuses. One given by France was noise from the vuvuzelas keeping them awake. That horn has come up for criticisms from the players saying that they can’t hear themselves or the ref’s whistle. The ball was also criticized for being erratic at times; however I find it strange that Japan could use it so well in set pieces. In my opinion that’s just hot air! When we lose or under perform it’s easy to give excuses but they are not always the reason why. Lesson five- No excuses!

All African football fans will find the quarter final match between Ghana and Uruguay hard to forget. I for one have never been so disappointed by a football match. After dominating for long periods they were given a golden opportunity to win with a last minute penalty but that was not to be. They had been cruelly denied by a hand ball on the line but Asamoah Gyan who was consistent from the spot failed to deliver on the big day. Sometimes no matter how hard you try it’s just not your day but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Lesson number 6.

We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve experienced the thrill of the victory and the agony of defeat but in the end only one will prevail. Similarly in life we have ups and downs but we’ve got to keep our eyes on the mark and finish well. In South Africa they are fighting for a trophy that doesn’t last, after 4 years it will be gone but there is another crown an incorruptible one that Paul talks of in 1 Corinthians 9:25 “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. “

So the question is- are you running after a crown that lasts?