One of Africans greatest players, Abedi Pele Ayew, says the gap is closing between previously highly ranked countries and the struggling ones. Speaking at a press conference at the Stanbic Bank Conference Centre recently, the Ghanaian said smaller nations are making strides, something he said is healthy for the development of African football.
“I just learned that Botswana’s Under 23 beat Morocco 2-0 for the 2008 Olympic qualifying games to be held in Beijing, China, next year. Personally, I was surprised and even the rest of Africa is shocked. This then shows that things have changed dramatically in African football. Previously, it was an obvious case that the game was going to be a walk over for Morocco but those times are gone now,” he said.
The three time African footballer of the year is in Botswana, courtesy of Standard Bank Group’s mission of taking the spirit of 2008 MTN Africa Cup of Nations, which will be held in Ghana to the people of Africa. The visit is also part of the first ever cross continental build-up to the event, since its inception 50 years ago. Pele also said the victory by Botswana over Morocco signals more good things about local football. He said football in Botswana is improving drastically and it is only a matter of time before Botswana is known world wide as a great football nation. Pele also touched on several factors affecting African football. He admitted that age cheating is a problem across Africa. He nevertheless said what compounds the problem is the fact that it is difficult to prove ages of players. He said a lot of African teams do well in youth tournament only to fade at senior ones like the World Cup and FIFA confederations tournaments. He was confident that the 2010 World Cup that will be held in South Africa will for the first time be won by an African country. To date no African country has won the World cup but only three managed to reach the quarter finals stage. Those are Cameroon in 1990, Nigeria 1994 and Senegal in 2002. Pele added that since it is held on the African soil, it is time for African teams to triumph. “In the past, African teams were humiliated at the World Cup. I remember in 1970 when Democratic Republic of Congo was beaten 9-0. Nowadays even 4-0 would not happen. Also if we look at World Cup history, only Brazil won the tournament in different continents. Most of the time it was held in Europe and was won by European countries. It is the first time it is held on African soil and that presents a great chance for African countries to prove their mettle,” he said.
Pele won the African Footballer of the Year for three years in succession. That was in 1991, 1992 and 1993. He helped his country, Ghana win the Africa Cup of Nations in 1982 at the tender age of 17. He also played in the AFCON tournaments for a record five times, in 1982, 92, 94, 96 and 98, thus breaking the record of legendary Cameroon international, Roger Milla. Pele is also ranked third African player of the century behind George Weah of Liberia and Milla.