Since time immemorial goalkeepers have been the ultimate guardian of a football team.
From Dino Zoff to Iker Casillas goalies have been revered as the last line of defence and, occasionally, the difference between glory and despair.
Sadly, when it comes to
Africa this has not always
been the case. When Zaire were
beaten 9-0 by Yugoslavia at
the 1974 World Cup Mwamba Kazadi became the model for the idea Africa had poor keepers. That was Africa’s
first appearance at a World Cup and over the years – with rare exceptions such
as Thomas Nkono and Joseph Antoine Bell – African keepers did little to
disprove this notion.
From Peter Rufai’s uncertainty at the 1998 World Cup to Andre Arendse’s misfortune in 2002, the narrative that
Africa had sub-standard
keepers only got stronger.
The result was a low opinion of African keepers from the outside and little respect for the position within
Africa itself, perpetuating
a cycle whereby focus was on outfielders rather than goalkeepers.
Fortunately, there seems to be a gradual change and in 2013 there is a different mood – a renaissance of African goalkeepers.
With goalkeeper coaching drastically improving and greater attention is paid on the art, things are changing from a time when a good African keeper was the exception rather than the norm.
The recent Africa Cup of Nations was the real show of the continent’s goalkeeping talent and this was in evidence again around during the weekend’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Of course there is still the bizarre; Ethiopia’s Jamel Tassew’s kung-fu kick on Zambia’s Chisamba Lungu being a prime example, however there’s been more than enough evidence to suggest it’s time to end the notion that the continent has bad goalkeepers.
The consistently brilliant performances of
Africa’s Itumeleng Khune, Zambia’s Kennedy Mweene and Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama in particular present
strong counter-arguments to the old clichés about Africa’s
On Saturday against the Central African Republic Khune was again exemplary with his marvellous distribution and his positioning.
’s Mweene, who saves
penalties as efficiently as he scores them, has been a model of consistency for
club and country over the last four years. Zambia
Bafana's Itumeleng Khune
Enyeama, arguably Africa’s top keeper, first made headlines in
South Africa at the last World Cup for a
stunning display against Argentina
and last month he was at it again leading to its first Nations Cup
title in 19 years. Nigeria
There are still challenges in the way of
Many countries remain behind when it comes to goalkeeping training techniques while
keepers are often times outfield players who were pushed to the posts.
Keepers are also generally exposed to a different type of game to leagues abroad with more flair but less crosses and high balls pumped into the penalty area.
This has contributed to a tendency of European clubs to underrate African goalkeepers. At the recent Nations Cup only
Kosi Agassa, of Reims in France’s
Ligue 1, was a regular starter at a club in one of Europe’s
so-called top five leagues.
On the other hand outfield players such from Didier Drogba to Samuel Eto’o form the backbone of many a European club side.
As Nkono (the only goalkeeper to have twice been elected Africa Footballer of the Year) says it’s down to miscalculated preconceptions.
“I am not sure if people any longer have a generally low opinion of African goalkeepers,” says Nkono. “But I think there was time when maybe people abroad thought in terms of Mwamba Kazadi and one bad World Cup match.”
It’s a battle
Africa keepers, such as Khune and
Mweene, face when it comes to breaking through to the highest level of the game.
Since Nkono and
had success in the eighties for Espanyol and Marseille respectively, only Carlos
Kameni has had a long run in goals for a top European team. Bell
Goalkeeper does remain a problem position for several of
top sides, but there are enough good keepers to end the stereotype of the naive
Zambia's Kennedy Mweene
It’s ok to know Africa’s stoppers for their uniqueness, such as DRC’s Robert Kidiaba’s donkey dance which delighted at the recent African Cup of Nations, but it should also be known that
has quality keepers that can hold their own against the best in the world.