African teams lean too much on top players

JOHANNESBURG - Africa's top players have faced too much pressure at the World Cup, weighed down by the hopes of a continent and a misguided belief that they alone can swing the outcome of games, leading African football figures say.

Of the six African teams competing in the first World Cup hosted by the continent, only Ghana have made it through to the last 16. Ivory Coast play later on Friday, but their chances of qualifying are slim.

The teams' disappointing showing has triggered soul searching by players and football bosses across Africa.

France midfielder Patrick Vieira, who left his Senegalese homeland at the age of 8, said African players such as Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba and Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o had struggled to shine.

"When they play at Inter (Milan) or Chelsea, there are 15 stars to share the pressure," said Vieira, a World Cup winner in 1998 who was not picked for the French squad this time around.

"In football, one player can't win the game ... and it's a big responsibility for the other players not to expect just one player to make a difference," he told a news conference on Friday at Johannesburg's showcase Soccer City stadium.

Most of Africa's best-known footballers spend most of their careers at European clubs, making for a tricky transition when they are called on to represent their nations.

"Maybe we're not playing the same 100 percent we do in our clubs because we're earning our bread and butter there," said Kalusha Bwalya, a former African Footballer of the Year and president of Zambia's football association.

"The African player has to be able to come home and deliver and I think this is a wake up call for us," he said, adding that a dearth of home-grown coaches also needed to be tackled.

While many of the best players pack their bags in hope of making their football careers in Europe, most national squads import coaches. Of the six African finalists, five had foreigners in charge.

Several teams also chopped and changed their coaches in the run-up to the World Cup, drawing criticism from FIFA President Sepp Blatter, a staunch supporter of African football.

Former South African player and coach Jomo Sono said the fact that many coaches are foreign means squads are prone to endure frequent changes.

"It's something wrong in Africa that the local coaches are only good for the African Cup of Nations and when it comes to the World Cup we have European coaches, which to me is diabolical," Sono said.

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