Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been
World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
Day 3 of the World Cup, and already it's hard to remember much about
France-Senegal. There was an upset, right? And some guy with Z's in his name
didn't play, right? Oh, never mind -- just keep your head forward and your
eyes on the set. Thinking's too much trouble right now. Three more games
tomorrow, and what more do you need to know?
Four of the five African teams have opened their accounts (Tunisia follows
in a few days) and it's time to take stock. At the moment the confederation
is dead even: 1 win, 1 loss, 2 draws. Not bad, but nothing really
exceptional: remember that in 1982 Cameroon and Algeria together actually
had a plus score, and neither qualified. So with Senegal already ancient
history, let's look at the three teams that played on Saturday and Sunday.
Cameroon first. The Indomitable Lions have the greatest burden of
expectations: as continental champions and experienced World Cup warriors,
they'll settle for nothing less than the quarterfinals. Judging from their
performance against Ireland, they still have work to do. They were brilliant
in the first half, their pace and power allied to superb technique, and they
looked like they might steamroller an Irish squad not yet adjusted to the
loss of Roy Keane. Geremi was particularly effective on the right wing, and
Samuel Eto'o, who set up Mboma's goal, was looking like the man of the
But Eto'o's fine performance underlines the Lions' major weakness: the lack
of a true playmaker. Notice how often he fell back to help set up play; at
times he did it brilliantly, but you can't rely on a striker to be your main
creative force. In the second half, Cameroon was getting the ball forward,
but had little idea what to do in the attacking third. Crosses from Pierre
Wome went for nothing -- Wome is not really an attacking player -- and there
was little possession in the middle of the field near the penalty area.
Marc-Vivien Foe, the central midfielder, is not a playmaker: he's really an
all-rounder, who chips in at times on both attack and defense. Perhaps the
best hope for a creative attacker is Laurent Etame-Mayer, a tricky player
with good ball skills and vision who plays inside right. He may have to see
more of the ball against Germany.
There were several other danger signs for Cameroon. First was the condition
of Patrick Mboma. He took his goal nicely, but was clearly not match fit,
and is unlikely to go 90 strong minutes any time soon. Patrick Suffo played
energetically as a substitute; he and Pius Ndiefi will have to be in good
form if Mboma fades. Another worry was the play of Salomon Olembe, who went
missing throughout much of the game. He's needed to provide punch on the
left side of attack. Perhaps most important was the general second-half
drift, as if the team as a whole had lost focus. The Irish were superb --
and Matt Holland had the goal of the tournament so far -- but a team with
ambitions for the quarterfinals isn't supposed to get pushed against the
wall that way. Cameroon are at their best when forcing the issue, and
they'll have to rediscover their aggression soon.
Unfortunately, the game against Saudi Arabia is almost a no-win situation.
If the Saudis roll over like they did against Germany, it won't be much of a
test; on the other hand, if they're really aroused, Cameroon could find
themselves in a fight they don't expect. Nothing but a win will do, and the
Lions can't afford to take anyone lightly. The good news is that they get
Germany last. If the Germans defeat Ireland, they'll have clinched
qualification, and will need only a draw to win the group. In that scenario,
a draw will put Cameroon in second place, ahead of Ireland and into the
Now to Nigeria, where there's plenty of good and bad news. Start with the
good: they stood up to an outstanding Argentine squad, and if Argentina were
deserving winners, the Super Eagles made them work for the victory. In the
final minutes the attack had a shaky Pablo Cavallero in trouble several
times. Jay Jay Okocha started very slowly, but after the Argentine goal,
when allowed more space, he showed that he's lost none of his skill and
playmaking vision. Pius Ikedia, who came on for Nwankwo Kanu, may have
earned himself a starting spot: playing on the right side of midfield, he
showed pace, technique, and lots of attacking energy. Bartholomew Ogbeche
was all over the field at striker, and if he still seems a rough diamond he
looked as if he'll make a mark before the tournament is over. Best news of
all was the performance of Ike Shoronmu, one of the big doubts before the
tournament began. Although once or twice he seemed to have communication
problems with his defense, he was brilliant on his line, evoking memories of
great African keepers like Nkono and Bell.
There were some worries, though. Festus Onigbinde chose Joseph Yobo for the
trouble spot at defensive midfield, and Yobo, normally a right back, looked
uncomfortable. He was out of position several times, and ineffective in the
transition from defense to attack. When in the second half Justice
Christopher took his place, and Yobo went to his natural position, the team
looked more solid as a whole. (To be fair, Argentina had backed off on the
pressure.) Christopher is very young, but he might be the right call in the
slot against Sweden. Another problem was at left back, where Celestine
Babayaro struggled both in attack and defense. Look for Ifeanyi Udeze,
coming off a one-game suspension, to take his place. One more worry is Kanu,
who was hurt early and was never a factor.
But on the whole I'd say Nigeria's outlook is fairly positive. Neither
England nor Sweden look like world-beaters, and England may get a lot taken
out of them by the battle against Argentina. If Cameroon was drifting out of
focus, Nigeria seems to be drifting in, and they have a certain amount of
momentum coming into the Sweden game. Onigbinde was upbeat after the loss,
and has a right to be so.
Finally, South Africa. After the heavyweight Argentina-Nigeria clash, their
game with Paraguay had the air of a second division fixture, with a lot less
skill and intensity. But in the end it may be this game which will be
remembered as the most important of the three -- and even of the four,
including Senegal's win over France.
Jomo Sono confirmed his reputation for unpredictability by fielding a
totally unexpected lineup. He went with only one true striker, Benni
McCarthy; both Siabonga Nomvete and George Koumantarakis started on the
bench. Then he put star midfielder Sibusiso Zuma on the left, instead of his
more natural right side. He started Cyril Nzama, more often a defender, in
right midfield. On the whole it was a surprisingly defensive setup for a
team that was supposed to be ready to attack.
The first half was drab. Only Quinton Fortune showed any signs of life; his
left-sided runs at times troubled the Paraguayan defense, but nothing really
came of them. Paraguay seemed uninspired in attack as well: only the fine
play of Roque Santa Cruz lifted them out of mediocrity. Santa Cruz fittingly
scored the Paraguayan goal, appropriately enough on a set piece abetted by a
keeper error. When Arce rammed home his free kick early in the second half,
there seemed nothing left but for Maldini's men to play careful defense and
walk out with a vital, not particularly well-deserved victory.
But then something happened. South Africa, instead of folding, as so many
African teams in the past have done, came to life. Zuma spent more time on
the right side and became more dangerous. Fortune seemed to tire a bit, but
Teboho Mokoena emerged as a force at attacking midfield. Paraguay went
passive -- remember, Maldini has made a living with these tactics -- and
just nine minutes later, paid the price. South Africa's goal, an own goal,
was lucky, but it was a fitting reward for all the pressure in the Paraguyan
Twenty-six minutes later, the score was still 2-1. South Africa had thrown
everything into the attack: substitute MacDonald Mukasi was causing problems
on the wing, Mokoena was creating in the middle, Koumantarakis was on as a
target man. And still it wasn't going to be enough. In the final minutes the
starch had gone out of the team, and Paraguay were ready to pick up the
three points. How many times had we seen it -- an African team with plenty
of verve and creativity held off by a well-organized, uninspired team from
the big confederations?
And then the world changed. Zuma took a through ball on the left side of the
area, and Ricardo Tavarelli made a horrible mistake. Although Celso Ayala
appeared to have the play covered, Tavarelli flew out low and Zuma hit the
turf. Penalty? To be honest, I didn't think so (although the Latin American
announcers did). The replay wasn't definitive. But the call had been made,
and Fortune scored from the spot. Full time 2:2.
A lucky draw, you say? Chilavert wouldn't have been caught out like
Tavarelli? True, but South Africa fully deserved to share the points. And
consider this: it was the first time in World Cup history that an African
team had come from behind in the final few minutes against a team from a
major confederation. (Remember Cameroon-England 1990, Nigeria-Italy 1994,
Cameroon-Austria 1998? It had always gone the other way in the past.)
Senegal over France was a great victory, but we've been there before. Here,
Africa looked South America (Paraguay) and Europe (Maldini) in the eye at
the death, and the big boys blinked.
I'm probably making too much of one game. But in the long run South
Africa-Paraguay may be more important than Senegal-France. It's the
second-line teams in the low-profile games that show a confederation's true
strength, and maybe, just maybe, Africa is drifting decisively in the right
direction. In the columnists' prediction poll for this website, I actually
picked South Africa to finish second in Group B (I also picked Senegal for
last in group A, but we won't go into that). They're not an exceptional side
-- Nigeria and Cameroon definitely have more talent -- but with the
experience from France '98, and the grit they showed today, I think they
have the right combination. In the past I've suggested that organization is
the key to top-level African advances, but this second-tier success seemed
to come from something more intangible, something like "character." Bafana
isn't a strong tactical team, like Senegal or Cameroon. But watch the tape
of Fortune's penalty kick, a classic power job: that's the finish of a team
that knows how to win. Imagine that -- an African team getting a result on
Looking ahead, they have the right schedule: Spain last. I expect Sono to
start two forwards against Slovenia and press the attack from the start.
With a genuine chance at qualification now, they figure to go for the three
points. Mokoena should stay at attacking midfielder, but I'm guessing that
Nomvete will get the call at striker from the start.
That's plenty for one weekend. Tunisia's up soon, but the rest of Africa
gets a rest for a while. So file this all away and turn your attention to
some of those other continents. My next column will be on CONCACAF and South
Korea: turn on, tune in, and go with the drift.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.