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Troubled African game marks 50th anniversary
by Mark Gleeson in London

African football exports a myriad of talent around the world but the success of the continent's teams on the global stage has not lived up to the predictions.

Both Pelé and former England manager Walter Winterbottom are credited with forecasting that the continent would produce a World Cup winner by the end of last century but to date Africa has had only two quarter-finalists -- Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002.

As the game in Africa celebrates its 50th anniversary on Thursday, it continues to battle problems of resources and infrastructure.

African nations have won world championships at age-group level and two Olympic gold medals but these triumphs have been clouded by later admissions of age cheating.

The continual exodus of African footballers to Europe in search of higher wages and more prestige has been a double-edged sword for the game.

Performances of national teams have got better with the influence of the professionals but many domestic leagues have been stripped bare of talent and marquee players.

The anniversary will be marked in Cairo, where Egypt meet Sweden in a friendly on Wednesday, and by events later this month in Sudan and Ethiopia to remember the launch of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 1957.

The fourth founder member, South Africa, will host a series of festivities in October.

The confederation is the second biggest in FIFA with 53 members, just two fewer than its European counterpart but its resources and profile barely touch those of UEFA.

It relies heavily on a grant of US$2.5 million annually from FIFA and makes little more every two years from the African Nations Cup finals, which before FIFA's recent financial assistance provided 80 percent of the CAF's revenue.

Transfers remain the sole source of real revenue for clubs on a continent where the television infrastructure is limited and rights fees are rare.

CAF itself has no marketing arm and the sale of its television rights has been consistently clouded in secrecy, dominated by the French company SportFive.

Experts argue that more potential revenue for the game has been hindered by an image of an archaic organisation where political agendas far outweigh sporting considerations.

CAF president Issa Hayatou, who will have been at the helm for 20 years next year, believes tournaments such as the Nations Cup and the African Champions League are enjoying a much broader international appeal.

"Unfortunately the quality is not always there and we now have a campaign to improve the infrastructure to better the competition," he said in a recent magazine interview.

The Cameroonian, who has stated his ambition to remain in his post when he comes up for re-election in 2009, says the CAF will spend more money on development and training courses in order to improve the standard of the game.

The hosting of the 2010 World Cup by South Africa presents Africa with an opportunity to dramatically enhance its profile but the jury is still out on whether it will be able to produce a winner on the pitch.
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