So what are the odds of four South American teams making it through to the semi-finals of the 2010 soccer World Cup being played in South Africa?
Of all the teams, the South Americans have seemed most comfortable in the South African environment. They have blossomed in South Africa and have adapted well to the hard fields (and higher bounce of the ball), altitude and the dry, cold atmospheric conditions that are prevalent on the Highveld (Johannesburg, Pretoria region).
On a cultural, societal level, the energy and passion that exists in South Africa (where 1st world and 3rd world meet in a dynamic way) is not dissimilar to that of a South American country. In fact, South Africa’s cultural diversity and energy flow may be more akin to that of Brazil or Argentina than to any other African country.
The African teams have not been able to deal with the pressure of top competition on the world stage. Nigeria and Cameroon were disappointing and capitulated very easily. In general, this is the sad cultural story of Africa. The African continent still struggles to integrate discipline, mental toughness and sustained commitment to achieve their goals. The fundamental life equation of input=output regarding hard work and effort may not be fully appreciated and totally embraced by Africans. In addition, there seems to be an inferiority that sits deep in the psyche. Due to this, African teams are at a disadvantage when competing on the world stage. But this disadvantage is self-created. Until this is fully understood, Africa will not feel totally self-empowered to influence the course of their own destiny to achieve greatness.
The F PIGS (term used in financial circles for France, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) or P FIGS (Pretty Figs – my more affectionate term) have seriously under-achieved at the tournament. The teams have appeared depressed and emotionally ‘flat’ (drained energy). Southern Europe is in a serious economic and societal crisis and the performances of these teams have reflected this and have been below expectations. The teams have succumbed to off-the-field interpersonal issues that may be unrelated, yet more powerful than actual football strategy and tactics. The off-the-field chaos of the French team is not dissimilar to the protests and rioting that has recently occurred in Greece due to the austerity measures that are being introduced. The leadership in these countries no longer feel in control of the people; while the people have little respect for those in charge. A breakdown in trust and respect between authority and subordinates results in a disintegration of energy. The coach of the French team experienced this process first hand as he lost the trust and respect of the players, resulting in a complete fragmentation of the unit. The leadership is rendered powerless and is not able to influence any meaningful interpersonal process that could lead to success.
The England soccer team still suffer from a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure in tournaments, similar to that of the South African cricket team. The team has to deal with the complex convergence of over-expectations from media and public, historical failures, mental ‘softness’ and an over-riding sense of entitlement; which all impact negatively on performance. In addition, the English football has a systemic problem that needs to be addressed; where the clubs seem to take precedence over the national team. This is an unbalanced state of affairs and is akin to a family where the children have greater power and influence than those of their parents. In such families, there is always undermining, sabotage and disharmony. Such a family does not function as a tightly knit unit and the children are usually spoilt and unruly.
On a general level, a global transition on economic, political and spiritual levels is busy unfolding. Chaos and unpredictability are being experienced in all walks of life. Holland and Germany reflect the order, discipline and thoroughness of Northern Europe (the old order). They will be up against Brazil and Argentina in the quarter-finals. These matches will be intriguing to watch and it will be interesting to see how ‘disciplined order’ and ‘creative chaos’ interact and mix on the field of play. Besides dealing with the artistry and individual brilliance of the Brazilians and Argentinians, I feel that the Germans and Dutch will be up against a global energy that best suits the South Americans.
While the hopes of Africa rest on Ghana, I have doubts about whether the team will be able to handle the expectations and on-the-field pressures in their match against Uruguay. Paraguay completes the South American quartet and will need to beat Japan to advance to the quarter-finals, to meet either Spain or Portugal. This will be the toughest match to ensure a total dominance of South American vibrancy and creativity at the 2010 World Cup tournament. The eventual culmination should be an exciting Argentina vs Brazil final. This will be a fitting finale that will reflect the creativity, passion and diversity of the host nation, South Africa. I can’t wait to see what actually unfolds.