WAY back in February1960, the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, made a historic speech in the South African Parliament, where he said a wind of change was blowing in the African continent.
He told the apartheid regime that those who ignored the reality will be blown off. Macmillan was referring to demands for independence in almost each corner of the continent, and warned the Boers to accept the change or else they will live to regret.
Now, nearly six decades after that historic speech, we see another wind of change blowing in the continent.
Now the kings, masters and giants of soccer of the continent when the political wind of change was blowing in the continent six decades ago are losing their past glory at a fast pace.
Let us recall some outstanding performances of our giants of the past. One of them is Algeria. On their first appearance at the World Cup in 1982, they made an impact that changed the tournament forever. They produced one of the most exhilarating performances to defeat one of the favorites, West Germany, but were later sabotaged by one of sport’s most blatant cases of match-fixing.
The Germans who were the reigning European champions had stomped imperiously into the finals, winning all eight qualifiers with goals for-against record of 33-3. At that time, the Germans had some of the top world stars–Paul Breitner, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Stielike and many more.
Then in 1990, Cameroon shocked the World Cup defending champions Argentina led by Diego Maradona in Italy, with a lone goal victory from Francois Omman- Biyik.
The Cameroonians reached the quarter finals, but were dubiously eliminated by England.
Other African giants like Senegal, Ghana, Tunisia and Morocco have also pulled almost similar shocks to great football nations in the World Cup. But all these giants of the past are now what you could at best describe as the shadows of their predecessors.
The latest results of qualifying series of AFCON are testimonies that the wind of change in soccer is blowing in Africa. Teams which were until recently minnows or passengers are pulling the biggest upsets which no one had expected.
For example, the glorious Black Stars of Ghana of the 1960’s thrashed Kenya 7-1 in 1963 during the country’s Independence Day celebrations. President Jomo Kenyatta, while watching Harambee Stars play Ghana at the Nairobi Show-ground and the home boys absorbed many goals, he asked for the country’s running legend, Kipchoge Keino to substitute one of the players and save Kenya from the embarrassment.
Mzee Kenyatta walked out of the stadium in anger when he was told that Kip was not a footballer. Kip earned almost a dozen medals, half of which were gold and excelled in middle to long distances and was well known to Mzee Kenyatta.
But last week’s result of Harambee Stars 1-0 victory over the Black Stars in the AFCON series was pleasant revenge and a special gift to President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose father (Mzee Jomo Kenyatta) later refused to watch Harambee Stars in action after that humiliating defeat on Independence Day.
Defending champions Cameroon were last weekend lucky to avoid humiliation in the hands of small fish Comoro, thanks to an unexpected 80th-minute equalizer from Stephane Bahoken to make the score 1-1.
The reigning African champions had several players featuring in some of the top European clubs and are 49th in the FIFA rankings, but were outclassed by the Comorians (149th in FIFA rankings) in all departments. Three years back, Comoros secured the greatest result of their short football history by holding Ghana to a 0-0 draw at home in 2015.
Nigeria (population 200 million) had a hard time before pulling an unconvincing 3-0 victory over tiny Seychelles whose population is just around 100,000, where not more than 15,000 people can play active soccer. Seychelles had earlier pulled a 2–1 win against Zimbabwe captained by Peter Ndlovu.
Senegal and Tunisia which hold joint top spot of African nations on the latest FIFA rankings (24th place) could only manage a 2-2 draw against Madagascar, ranked 107th in the world.
Some may say that surprise results are common in football, but the regular brilliant performance of the so called underdogs is nothing more than a wind of change in African football.
All in all, having the minnows beat the big guns makes the African soccer scenario exciting. But the question is, when will Taifa Stars rise and do what we have seen from teams which, just like us, have for long been considered minnows of the continent?
I just hope the performance of Madagascar, Seychelles and Comoro will inspire Taifa Stars to do better and give us the long awaited broad smile of qualifying for the next AFCON finals in Cameroon.
But let me be honest. While I pray for the best, I am also prepared for the worst, because I have yet to see a skillful and improved Taifa Stars performance. Good luck and all the best Taifa Stars.