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African Teams at the World Cup: "Plucky Underdogs" No More

14/07/2014 15:03 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 10:59 BST

This World Cup was the first in the history of the competition that more than one African side made it through to the knockout round and yet there's still a slightly unfair feeling in some parts that the teams from the CAF region have underperformed.

If it seems odd to group all African sides together as a homogenous mass - European sides aren't talked about in the same way - it should be explained that there are few things that unite a whole continent the same way that the prospect of an African football team succeeding at the World Cup does.

South African football writer Antoinette Muller explained, "Africa is not a country, but African football certainly is." The teams also face a lot of similar challenges and one that's come to the fore in this World Cup is a lack of organisation at board level.

Money is always a hot-button topic and so it proved again, with the Nigerian President having to intervene to end a player strike over performance bonuses and the Ghana team having around $3m in cash flown out to them mid tournament for the players to receive their appearance fees.

Another issue that affects African football is the lack of strong domestic leagues. Of the 115 African players at the World Cup, just 10 of them play in their home countries and even then those 10 were rarely in their sides' starting XIs in Brazil.

The infrastructure is growing, slowly and it's showing in the deeper reserves of talent coming from the continent. In days gone by there would be one team every few World Cups who prospered - Cameroon in Italia 90 being the most memorable. Since then, however, the strength in depth in the CAF qualifying region has gotten so much better.

This is why it's so promising that, for the first time, two African sides qualified for the knockout round. Sure, neither of them got past the last 16, but they've begun to show that the 'plucky underdogs' tag that's invariably given to any side from Africa - regardless of recent form or quality - is disingenuous and, frankly, patronising.

Algeria are an excellent example of the progress that's being made. Instead of a team containing some average players and a couple of superstars who don't play well as a unit - Ivory Coast are a glaring example of that - Algeria are a well-drilled unit who looked at their awful 2010 performance, knew it wasn't good enough and dragged themselves up to become the highest ranked team on the continent.

And yet, because of the lack of attention paid to African football in the so-called "traditional football nations", Algeria flew in under the radar because their 2010 World Cup performance was the last most people heard about them. Unfortunately, when it comes to the buildup for the World Cup in 2018, the general expectations for them will be based on their performance in Brazil rather than anything in the intervening four years.

But even so, things are improving. Any change on this scale is going to be a slow process and so it's proving. Some have said that the lack of a team making a real challenge in the latter stages of the competition, like Ghana four years ago, shows a lack of progress. They're wrong. With kinder draws in the last 16, Algeria and Nigeria could easily have emulated Ghana's quarter final berth (and Algeria nearly still did!).

So yes, African football still has its problems, but there's no problem that can be solved overnight and recent history, especially this World Cup, has shown that things are moving in the right direction. Maybe one day there'll come a time where TV commentators can go a full 90 minutes without patronising an African side. We'll live in hope.

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