Africa defies chaos to thrive at World Cup

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 29, 2014 at 4:19 pm •  Published: June 29, 2014
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BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Stephen Keshi had just finished repelling yet another query about the Nigeria player bonus payment issue when he wiped his brow, leaned forward and posed a rhetorical question.

"Can I ask if you work with the CIA?" the Nigeria coach said, sparking muffled laughter all around.

When it comes to African teams at the World Cup, the focus on football has sometimes taken a back seat to other distractions in Brazil.

Strike threats. Pay disputes. Bomb blasts back home. Presidential interventions. That's on top of several unsavoury incidents on the field, with a Cameroon player head-butting his teammate and high-profile Ghana players getting suspended for physical and verbal attacks in training.

Yet somehow, through the turmoil, it has been the best World Cup for Africa teams in a way: for the first time, more than one of the continent's representatives advanced to the knockout stage.

And if Nigeria and Algeria win their round-of-16 matches on Monday, they would play each other to guarantee Africa's first semifinalist on football's biggest stage.

"I hope Nigeria and Algeria can continue to make Africa proud," Keshi said. "That would be a great World Cup."

Many have reacted with a shrug to the off-pitch shenanigans that have blighted African teams' World Cup campaigns. Just ask France coach Didier Deschamps, who is preparing his team to take on Nigeria in Brasilia.

"For them, I don't think it is a very unusual situation," he said. "I'm not saying it is part of the culture, but it has happened before this World Cup."

Player disgruntlement over unpaid bonuses has followed the African teams around Brazil. Ghana's president had to fly reportedly millions in cash to Brazil to ensure the team didn't boycott a pivotal group game against Portugal.

Cameroon refused to travel to the tournament until a dispute over appearance fees was resolved. Most recently, Nigeria players' concerns over bonus payments contributed to a training session being cancelled on Thursday and the country's president, Goodluck Jonathan, having to intervene from long distance.

Hence the barrage of questions to Keshi on Sunday.

"There was not a major issue about the monetary aspect of it," Keshi said. "It was just something we wanted to highlight."

Nigeria is thriving on the pitch, despite tragedy back home. A day after its first group game, a bomb blast at a World Cup viewing site in Damaturu, northeast Nigeria, and killed 14 people. Last week, a bomb went off at a shopping mall in Abuja, the capital in central Nigeria, killing 24 people.