Sport World Cup: Why Nigeria, other African countries dominate only age-grade competitions – Analyst

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Amid the ongoing 2023 FIFA Under 17 World Cup in Indonesia, SKY BLAST TV takes a look at why Nigeria and other African countries dominate age-grade competitions but not senior national team competitions.

Nigeria remains the most successful country when it comes to the FIFA Under 17 World Cup. African teams have made it to the final of the FIFA Under 20 World Cup on five occasions – with Ghana emerging as World Champions back in 2009.

Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, has won the FIFA Under 17 World Cup on five different occasions (1985, 1993, 2007, 2013 and 2015). They are ahead of Brazil, who have won it four times (1997, 1999, 2003 and 2019). Their West African counterpart Ghana have won it twice in 1991 and 1995.

In the ongoing Under 17 FIFA World Cup, Mali are set to take on France in the semi-final tie on Tuesday, while Argentina will tackle Germany. Mali finished runner-up in the 2015 edition, losing to champions Nigeria in the final.

Despite all these impressive feats for Nigeria and other African teams at age-grade competitions, making an appreciable impact at the senior FIFA World Cup competitions has been a near-impossible task so far. Since the competition’s inception back in 1930, no African team has made it past the semi-final stage (Morocco 2022).

The likes of Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all got eliminated in the quarter-final stage. African giants such as Nigeria and Egypt failed to even qualify for the last edition of the FIFA senior World Cup in Qatar, which Lionel Messi-led Argentina won after beating France in the final.

As Nigeria, other African countries continue to lick their wounds over their failure to record remarkable success at the FIFA senior World Cup competitions, Stanley Smart, a Sports Analyst, disclosed to SKY BLAST TV on Monday, why the continent has continued to underachieve. Smart also explained why African teams and Nigeria, particularly, have achieved in the age-grade FIFA World Cup competitions in the past.

“One of the reasons African teams and Nigeria, especially performed well at age-grade FIFA World Cup competitions in the past was because the grassroots, school competitions, inter-school competitions, Principal’s Cup and Academicals were operating optimally then.

“People engage in sporting activities from a tender age. But currently all these things are lacking,” Smart told SKY BLAST TV. “Because, I think the last time an African country won the Under 17 World Cup was in 2015 and that was Nigeria, over eight years ago.

“That tells you that Nigeria and Africa’s biggest undoing is their failure to invest in grassroots programmes. Nigeria has been missing out in the age-group competitions lately. They didn’t even qualify for the ongoing Under 17 World Cup. “That tells you that there is something wrong in the administration of football in Nigeria. The right people need to be appointed to manage football in Nigeria.

“Those in charge of managing football in the country need to get the children and youths back into football and people need to start liking football again. “See what is happening to the senior national team, the Super Eagles at the moment. If they don’t sit up and improve their game, I’m sorry to say this but it is the bitter truth, they will not qualify for another World Cup.

“Take Morocco for example, they did well at the last senior World Cup in Qatar as they finished in the semi-final stage. “Their achievement shows that they have invested in grassroots programmes to grow their football and discover talents that are now playing on the biggest stage. “European countries like France, England, Croatia and Belgium have multiple football facilities.

“These facilities provide these countries with a hub of football development which ensure they groom players from a tender age and also coaches. “By the time these players get to the teenage age, they are already mature in the game. “This is something that is lacking in Nigeria and Africa at large. As a result, the continent fails to advance at the senior levels.

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“Having said that, If the right environment is created, then it is only a matter of time, success will prevail. “Because I know it was age-grade competitions that helped lots of talents such as [John] Mikel Obi, [Kelechi] Iheanacho and [Victor] Osimhen, who signed good contracts in Europe,” he noted.

When asked if Mali can make Africa proud this time around as they eye to go past their best (runner-up) in the competition, Smart added, “It won’t be easy because they will face France who have been outstanding in the competition so far. “But I’m rooting for Mali to beat France and advance to the final. It will be a tough and a close encounter,” he further stated.

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