Monday, February 11, 2008

Africa's best

Egypt claimed the African Nations Cup on Sunday, and thus they are kings of Africa.

But are they Africa's best side?

I was struck with this dilemma yesterday so I decided to explore it a bit more. You'll have to wait for Tuesday's PE column for my explorations (I looked at all the confederations and the supposed best teams in each region).

Egypt, though, struck me as odd. Egypt won the ANC in 2006 and 2008 and beat Ivory Coast and Cameroon (twice) en route to this year's crown. But Egypt did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup, nor the 2002 cup, the 1998 cup and the 1994 cup. In fact, Egypt has only played in two World Cups - 1990 and 1934. Additionally, their roster is not as stacked as other African nations.

Still, Egypt won this tournament two consecutive times now, which proves it isn't a fluke.

What constitutes "best?" As I mention in my column, if you ask a typical American soccer fan and a typical Mexican soccer fan who the best team in CONCACAF is, you'll get two different answers. What defines "best?" Is it simply championships won? Players the nation has produced? Does the league come into play? What about matches against common opponents? Games in Europe? Simply qualifying for tournaments? What about youth national teams - do those count?

It's really a subject you can write a book on. My PE attempt was about 800 words.

I didn't really come to a conclusion in my column, though, at least as to Egypt's superiority. I would consider them the best side right now but they have to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. The two-time defending African champions simply have to, otherwise we'll be right back here a couple of years from now.


Nico said...

they won the tournament, what else do you want? what's the point of having the tournament then? When Greece won the Euro most people probably didnt consider them the best side. However, they found a way to win it. In my opinion that is more than enough. Simply playing attractive soccer with known superstar should not qualify you as the best. I've seen this argument all over the place. Pointless, the tournament decides the continents best side at the time of the tournament.

JT (Chicago) said...

Luis, my brother in law (who played in Egypt in his younger days) always told me that Egypt has the players who can play, but too often, the manager (oft times foreign) was swapped out before the players could grow into his system.

Also with the two big clubs dominating the domestic league, there's often competition and tension to dominate the national squad. So, sometimes the better players would lose out because they are with the club out of power, so to speak. This has tended to undermine the national team in the past.

Fortunately, it looks like Hassan Shehata has been given the time to work his system, first with the younger players (U20s) and now with the senior squad. His continuing success has given him the respect to put his system into place and now you see a very balanced team selection. There's a good mix of Zamalek & Ahly players along with other Egyptian teams & players who are playing abroad.

The manager seems to have everybody playing together as a team, and in a pleasing style (something that was not always the case with foreign managers). Now that they've won two consecutive ACN titles, it will be interesting to see if Hassan Shehata can continue his success with the team and get them to advance to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

Qualifying from Africa is not that easy given all the strong sides who'll be competing, so Egypt will have to see which group they are drawn into. Still, for now based upon the last two championships, I think deserve to be called Africa's best team, if only for the next few months.

papa bear said...

football isn't a beauty consted and it's not judged like a skateboarding contest it's all about W's (and the occassional D ;) )

Egypt won. They are the best in Africa. I don't care if there are 50 Drogbas on Ivory Coast they have won precisely jack s**t.
Same goes for CONCACAF. Gold Cup winner = best in region until the next tournament. (hell, I'll even give the WC an exemption here, whoever makes it further in an off year for Gold Cup I'll give them half an argument to the title)
You brought up the Mexico vs. US argument but ther is no argument. US are the holders. They held before that. Simple. I don't even have to get into the recent record of dominance in other competitions do I?
When/If Mexico wins Gold Cup again I will be the first to congratulate them and admit readily that they are the best in CONCACAF. Until then, there is no rational debate.