ROGER Milla has blamed too much chopping and changing by both football officials and foreign coaches for African failures at the continent’s first World Cup.
The Cameroon legend and World Cup’s all-time oldest scorer also accused African sides of being too ‘complacent’, while attacking the trend for expensive imported coaches like Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Milla spoke of his dismay and disappointment that African teams have under-achieved at this World Cup, despite high expectations - and fervent stadium support at every match.
Going into today's games, there were fears that the second round could feature no African teams for the first time in 28 years.
The last time that happened was 1982 in Spain, Milla’s first World Cup, when his Cameroon side were eliminated despite going unbeaten.
They drew three games, including one with eventual champions Italy, but it was their run the quarter-finals eight years later that won Milla – and his corner-flag dancing – iconic appeal.
That remains the furthest any African side has reached in a World Cup, equalled by Senegal in 2002 – but in Germany four years ago, Ghana were the continent’s only second-round representatives.
South African cities have been plastered in posters and billboards proclaiming slogans such as ‘Africa United’ and ‘It’s a home game for Africa’.
Yet each side has suffered distinctive difficulties, such as key injuries Nigeria’s Jon Obi Mikel, Ghana’s Michael Essien, Algeria’s Mourad Meghni and the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba – though he has played with a cast on his broken elbow.
Cameroon’s prospects were hampered by internal unrest, while only North Korea have a lower place in Fifa rankings than hosts South Africa.
There has also been criticism of the fact only Algeria have been coached by an African, Rabah Saadane – now in his fifth spell in charge of his homeland.
Other African football associations have spent hefty chunks of their budget on short-term contracts for the likes of Nigeria’s Swedish coach Lars Lagerback and his compatriot Sven-Goran Eriksson, briefly leading the Ivory Coast.
Milla, speaking while coaching youngsters with education charity 1GOAL, yesterday said: ‘It’s a problem, if you’ve only had three months to prepare a team.
‘You should be working consistently through the Africa Cup of Nations and then the World Cup, not picking one team for one competition and one for another.
‘We have to start being less complacent – we have to choose a coach to train and beat teams in Africa.’
Of the first two African teams to fall so far, he said: ‘Cameroon picked a team that was too young, Nigeria picked a team that was too old.’
He was disapproving of Cameroon’s French coach Paul Le Guen, who suffered a squad revolt when he dropped Alex Song and Achille Emana for their opening-game defeat to Japan.
Changes were made for the follow-up, with captain Samuel Eto’o asserting more dressing-room – and Press conference – control.
But a haphazard 2-1 defeat to Denmark meant the ‘Indomitable Lions’ were the first team knocked out of the tournament.
Milla, who denied claims he himself had fallen out with Eto’o, said: ‘The Cameroon people need to know the truth – the coach didn’t do his job correctly.
‘The second, against Denmark, the players picked the team themselves.
‘They had the possibility of beating Japan and Denmark, but it was a just a failure.
Yet Cameroon’s hopes of reaching the finals had looked bleak before Le Guen took charge in July 2009 and took them to South Africa on the back of four wins in their closing four qualifiers.
Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, by contrast, both entered the tournament with new Swedish coaches appointed at short notice and on lucrative, short-term contracts.
But Lagerback’s ‘Super Eagles’ are flying home after two defeats and a draw, while Eriksson’s ‘Elephants’ need to not only trample North Korea but also see Brazil beat Portugal – and a ten-goal swerve in their favour.
South Africans were yesterday reflecting on their bittersweet exit from their own World Cup, as pressure mounted for one of their own to take over as coach.
Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over France failed to prevent South Africa becoming the first host nation to fall at the first hurdle of a World Cup.
They might count themselves a little unfortunate – the USA finished in the same place in their group when staging the competition in 1994, but different rules at the time meant some third-placed teams progressed.
The favourite to replace the outgoing Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is his assistant Pitso Mosimane, a South African.
But another World Cup pioneer, much-travelled coach Bora Milutinovic, yesterday insisted the nationality or language of a coach did not matter – but their mentality, and how rigorously they got to know their players and their backgrounds.
He also accused too many Africans of being too unambitious when preparing for World Cups.
Milutinovic was the first man to lead five different countries at separate World Cups, including a Nigeria side who reached the second round in 1998.
He insisted: ‘Africa needs to think more seriously about what they need to do to become World Cup winners, not just win a couple of games here and there.’
But he acknowledged that social and economic difficulties, and above all lack of education opportunities, held back many African players and teams trying to develop.
‘Sometimes it’s not enough to have talent or to train – you have to know how,’ he added.