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World Cup: “African football has very good goalkeepers”

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Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo collides with Ghanaian goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi during a World Cup Group H match in Doha on November 24, 2022.

Three losses. Two draws. Six goals conceded and only two scored. The record of the five African nations was hardly flamboyant on the first day of the World Cup in Qatar. Beyond the figures, however, one position has stood out since the start of the tournament, that of the goalkeepers. Against Croatia, the Moroccan Yassine Bounou repelled, on several occasions, opposing strikes. His saves allowed the Atlas Lions to snatch a 0-0 against the vice-world champion. The Tunisian Aymen Dahmen also saved the Eagles of Carthage by deflecting the Danish missiles and thus preserving the draw (0-0).

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Against Switzerland, Cameroonian André Onana prevented the Indomitable Lions from conceding more goals (final score 1-0). Lawrence Ati-Zigi, the doorman of Ghana, was unable to do much against the Portuguese waves (3-2); but he still countered attempts by Cristiano Ronaldo and that’s not nothing. Finally, only Edouard Mendy, the goalkeeper of Senegal, did not shine: lacking in confidence, he seemed lost in his unreassuring outings against the Netherlands (0-2). He made up for it on Friday, November 25 by stopping a Qatari volley (1-3) with his fingertips, during the second day of the tournament.

Overall, the African goalkeepers made a good impression. And it’s no coincidence: most of them play in big European clubs. Yassine Bounou, who defends the cages of Sevilla FC, was named best goalkeeper last season in La Liga, the Spanish championship, thanks to a ratio of 0.77 goals conceded per game (24 goals conceded in 31 games played). A performance to highlight since the Belgian of Real Madrid Thibaut Courtois won the Yachine Trophy 2022, rewarding the best goalkeeper in the world.

Atlas Lions goalkeeper Yassine Bounou during the Morocco-Croatia match on November 23, 2022, during the World Cup in Qatar.

André Onana, who wears the jersey of Inter Milan, was trained at FC Barcelona before starting his professional career at Ajax Amsterdam. Senegalese Edouard Mendy is at Chelsea and was voted best goalkeeper of the year 2021 by the International Football Federation (FIFA). Lawrence Ati-Zigi guards the cages of the Swiss team (Saint-Gall). Only Aymen Dahmen evolves on the African continent, in the club of his birthplace in Sfax.

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A few decades ago, very few specialists in this position from Africa set foot on the lawns of the Old Continent. “At that time, European clubs had no reluctance to recruit a black striker; but for a goalkeeper it was different, recalls Joseph-Antoine Bell, recruited by Marseille in 1985. He was considered nonchalant, lacking seriousness, concentration. We thought he had too many flaws to hold such an important position. In short, we could not trust him. As I imposed myself in all the clubs where I played [Marseille, Toulon, Bordeaux, Saint-Etienne], I think that has allowed mentalities to change. »

Tunisian goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen, during his team's first match against Denmark in the World Cup, on November 22, 2022 in Doha.

To change focus, it was also necessary to give value to this position when many young Africans would like to become the next Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané. In recent years, the training of goalkeepers in Africa has improved, notes the French Michel Dussuyer, former goalkeeper and who was coach of Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin. On this continent, there are good training centers, especially in Senegal, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire. And quality academies where specific work is done. »

“Today, we want to be goalkeepers”

These structures have hired former porters, who have had a successful career, to help apprentices improve their skills. Passing on experience, learning the trade, is, among other things, the mission of Oumar Diallo, former goalkeeper of the Teranga Lions and who now officiates at Diambars, one of the best football schools on the continent, located in Senegal. In Europe, the Cameroonian Thomas N’Kono has been the goalkeeper coach of Espanyol Barcelona, ​​one of his former clubs, since 2003, a sign that African skills are exported and are also recognized abroad.

Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy makes a save during a World Cup Group A match between Qatar and Senegal in Doha on November 25, 2022.

“African football has very good goalkeepers, there are more and more candidates, it’s a normal evolution”welcomes Michel Dussuyer. “Before, we only talked about attacking players. This is no longer the case: today, we want to be goalkeepers. This position is perceived as a safe bet, it’s not like before adds Joseph-Antoine Bell. The successes of Onana, Mendy and Bounou at the highest level should further influence the youngest to turn to this precious position.

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During this World Cup in Qatar, we see that a national team cannot have a good course “without having an excellent goalkeeperattests Claude Le Roy, former coach who led six African selections. When we won the 1988 CAN with Cameroon, it was because ours – Joseph-Antoine Bell – was of a very high level. And as Senegal, Cameroon and Morocco have very good specialists in this position, they can normally have some ambitions…”

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