african soccer on rise

GIFTED: Nigerian soccer legend John Utaka. Pic. Lefty Shivambu. 01/06/2008. © Gallo Images.
GIFTED: Nigerian soccer legend John Utaka. Pic. Lefty Shivambu. 01/06/2008. © Gallo Images.

All reports by Ramatsiyi Moholoa

All reports by Ramatsiyi Moholoa

Nigerian soccer legend John Utaka believes the 2010 Fifa World Cup scheduled for South Africa will be a great platform to market and promote African soccer.

The articulate Utaka said it was encouraging to see more companies coming on board with big money to finance the leagues on the continent.

"There is more interest from the local and international companies in the football leagues in Africa, which is great for the development of the game," he said.

"Most of the leagues on the continent are now sponsored and there are more knockout competitions. The sport can also grow bigger and better with more money.

"There will be more players from other continents also coming to play football in Africa if the corporate world continue supporting the sport."

The down to earth Utaka said the biggest challenge was for African countries to prepare themselves adequately for the World Cup.

"The World Cup is coming to our shores for the first time in its history, so we [African countries] cannot afford to add up numbers in that tournament.

"African countries must stand up and be counted in 2010. We will be playing at home and the support from our people will be great.

"We cannot afford to disappoint them. For me the first thing will be for African countries to really start focusing on assembling their best possible teams.

"It's not about reaching the knockout stages in 2010, African countries have to go all out and do well in that tournament.

"We have some pretty good players on the African continent, some of whom are doing well in the best football leagues in the world.

"Africa has won the Olympic gold medal in football twice [Nigeria in 1996 and Cameroon in 2000], and silver [Nigeria this year].

"The World Cup should be our next target, as players we should all be inspired by the fact that it will be taking place on our continent for the first time."

Focusing on the Super Eagles' plans for 2010, Utaka said: "First of all, sorry about the defeat yesterday [Saturday in Port Elizabeth].

"Bafana Bafana should have scored several goals. We want to complete the qualifiers without a loss, we are going all out for a title in 2010. We have a great team and there is no turning back."