With their unique dancing and wild celebrations, African stars have lit up many a FIFA World Cup. Images of Cameroon striker Roger Milla immediately come to one’s mind.
Christian Panucci, the Italian defender who played in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan alongside legends like Paolo Maldini, Francesco Totti and Alessandro del Piero, feels African countries will make some of the biggest headlines in the Qatar World Cup.
“The African teams will produce the biggest surprise at the World Cup. That is my wish too because African teams have great team spirit, but these sides have not come to the fore all these years,” said Panucci, in a chat with The Hindu, here on Tuesday.
Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia, and continental champion Senegal are the African teams at the World Cup this time. Milla’s heroics helped Cameroon become the first African nation to reach the World Cup quarterfinals in 1990 and Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) also made it to the last eight.
But no African team has gone beyond that.
With Italy failing to qualify for the World Cup, Panucci said he would not be cheering any team in Doha.
“I will not be cheering any team because Italy is not there… that sadness is there. And I don’t have a favourite team as such,” said the 49-year-old ambassador of Italian giant AC Milan who is in Kochi for the official launch of the Milan Academy Kerala.
Italy, a four-time World Cup champion which last won the trophy in 2006, missed the last World Cup too. What is the problem, what needs to be done to change things?
“Italy will surely come back. There are many internal problems in Italy, financial problems too. If you look at teams like France and England, there is much more support, financially too.”