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Five African teams qualified for the World Cup, but when will one win?


Africa has produced a significant number of world-class soccer players. Five teams from the continent qualified for this year's World Cup in Qatar. But it's been 12 years since the World Cup in South Africa, the first FIFA World Cup on African soil. And with so much homegrown talent, why hasn't the continent been able to produce a team that can nab the gold trophy? Mpho Lakaje reports from Johannesburg.


MPHO LAKAJE, BYLINE: The iconic FNB Stadium in the township of Soweto, packed to the rafters - vuvuzela-blowing South Africans cheered on the inaugural match of the first African World Cup in 2010. South Africa delivered a world-class tournament.

DANNY JORDAAN: This was against the strong campaign of Afropessimism. Are they going to be ready? Aren't we taking a risk?

LAKAJE: Danny Jordaan was the man who led South Africa's successful 2010 FIFA World Cup bid.

JORDAAN: What the World Cup has done, it has dispelled the whole notion of African pessimism.

LAKAJE: But what it hasn't been able to do is to help produce a winner from the African continent. Danny Jordaan says the continent's lack of infrastructure is among the many factors stifling soccer development.

JORDAAN: We don't even have world-class stadium on the continent that 22 out of 54 countries cannot play home internationals in their own country.


LAKAJE: Africa certainly doesn't have a shortage of talent - Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Didier Drogba, to name but a few. But nearly all of its most gifted players end up playing abroad.


LAKAJE: In Evaton, a township just south of Johannesburg, one soccer academy is hoping to rectify this. Named after the Spanish LaLiga club, Celta Vigo, who recently announced a partnership, they are investing in local talent and training facilities. Soccer players in their teens are working hard, training on a soccer pitch that has patches of gravel.

THEMBA DLAMINI: Kids will come here, walking about 30 minutes to-and-fro.

LAKAJE: Themba Dlamini, the founder of the academy, says he is trying his hardest to get the best out of his youngsters.

DLAMINI: Sometimes they don't have resources, soccer balls to play soccer, and they don't have something to eat. And it's very difficult because we don't have sponsors.

LAKAJE: His young players certainly have the will to win.

SAMKELO NHLONGWANE: (Non-English language spoken).

LAKAJE: "Soccer is something that I love," 16-year-old Samkelo Nhlongwane tells me. "Whenever I get here, I find joy. I have found a family. When I grow up, I would like to play in LaLiga in Spain. Right now, at the FIFA World Cup, I support Brazil because it has plenty of quality."

KWANDOKUHLE HLENTI: (Non-English language spoken).

LAKAJE: "When I play soccer, I am at peace," Kwandokuhle Hlenti tells me. "When there are problems at home, I can cool my head on the pitch. I would like to play on a professional level." He also tells me that he supports Brazil and France at this year's World Cup because they both have top players.


LAKAJE: Danny Jordaan says the future of African soccer will rely on proper investment and development.

JORDAAN: I think you will see greater development drives on the continent, and I think at the next World Cup, we will be able to see the impact of that investment.

LAKAJE: Africa has a dream of seeing an African nation lift the World Cup trophy, and that dream is certainly within reach. But maybe not just yet. Mpho Lakaje, Evaton outside Johannesburg.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mpho Lakaje