How to Win the World Cup

After centuries of colonization and exploitation and decades of dashed hopes on the pitch, I want to see an African country get an equal place on the world stage.

Musa Okwonga

By Musa Okwonga

Mr. Okwonga is a writer, poet and football fanatic. He has published two books on the sport.

CreditIllustration by Leif Parsons / Photo by Robert Zuckeman/Warner Brothers

This is part of Offsides, a newsletter on the broader issues and hidden stories around the World Cup. You can sign up here to receive it in your inbox.

The World Cup is well underway. I know because I’ve been gorging myself on a visual diet of several games a day. Maybe you have, too. They’ve been pretty exciting, since many of the teams expected to sail toward the next round have instead been stumbling: Germany, the defending champions, fell to Mexico; France just barely edged past Australia; Spain, Brazil and Argentina all tied in their first matches.

But there’s been one thing that’s disappointed me: This surge of the less-favored countries hasn’t included any from Africa. The first four to compete — Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria — all lost. It was always a long shot, but now the dream of an African team holding this trophy aloft seems further away than ever.

I was born and raised in Britain but I’ve often shared that dream. Whenever England is eliminated from the World Cup, my affections go next to the best African team. That’s not just because my parents moved to England from Uganda. It’s also because Africa, having suffered centuries of colonization and exploitation, has so long been denied an equal place on the global stage.

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There are several reasons no African country has ever got past a quarterfinal. One is that, well, this is the World Cup. Most of the teams are good; this is serious competition. As Al Pacino’s character says in his famous speech in the 1999 movie “Any Given Sunday,” the difference between glory and failure is “inch by inch, play by play.” (Yes, I know the movie is about the other “football.”). In 1990, Cameroon was just seven minutes away from reaching the semifinal, when England scored and dashed their hopes; in 2010, Ghana would have gone to that stage, too, if only the team had scored a last-minute penalty against Uruguay.

But as always with this tournament, there’s more going on than what you can watch on the pitch. Let’s remember world history: Most of Africa was at some point colonized by Europe’s empires, which subjugated these societies and stripped them of their resources.

This legacy has left many of the countries of Africa poor and politically fractured — not exactly fertile ground for intense training and football greatness. And then there’s the issue of migration and lost talent: After independence, many Africans migrated to the richer countries of Europe. Several of their children have ended up playing for the European countries where they were born or spent their formative years. Some of them — like France’s Patrick Vieira, who was born in Senegal, or Portugal’s legendary striker, Eusebio, who was born in Mozambique — are among the greatest players the World Cup has ever seen. Sometimes I take this train of thought further: How many of Brazil’s five titles does the country owe to the descendants of enslaved people who came from Africa?

Naturally, there are contemporary problems, too. Some of Africa’s leading football nations have, I’m sorry to say, compounded historical setbacks with modern-day mismanagement of their players and resources. (I’m thinking of Nigeria and Ghana especially.) But as France, Germany and Spain have recently shown, the path to World Cup victory these days relies on patient investment in the national team over the course of several decades, and then a substantial helping of luck.

The Fight to Get a Vaccine to Center of Ebola Outbreak

Medical investigators will need to overcome the rural region’s extreme logistical hurdles to reconstruct transmission chains, vaccinate contacts and halt the spread.

Health care workers preparing a makeshift center to administer an experimental vaccine in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, where the outbreak began, in May.CreditKenny Katombe/Reuters

Aiming to squelch an Ebola outbreak that has infected 54 people, killing almost half of them, aid workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have begun giving an experimental vaccine to people in the rural region at the epicenter of the outbreak.

Epidemiologists working in the remote forests have not yet identified the first case, nor many of the villagers who may have been exposed. Investigators will need to overcome extreme logistical hurdles to reconstruct how the virus was transmitted, vaccinate contacts and halt the spread.

“For an epidemic to be under control, you need a clear epidemiological picture,” said Dr. Henry Gray, the emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.

“If you don’t know the stories of the people involved — who their families were, what their jobs were, where they went to weddings and funerals — then you don’t know the epidemic.”

Almost 500 people received the experimental vaccine, VSV-EBOV, last week around Mbandaka, a riverfront city of more than 1.5 million people where four Ebola cases have been confirmed.

Mbandaka is a priority because it is a traffic hub. The Republic of the Congo lies just across the Congo River, and Kinshasa, Congo’s capital of 10 million, is less than 500 miles downstream.

Aid workers are using the ring method: The vaccine is given to groups of people in contact with each Ebola case, such as family caregivers, as well as the contacts of those contacts.

About 7,500 doses are available to vaccinate 50 rings of 150 people each, according to Dr. Peter Salama, the deputy director-general for emergency response at the World Health Organization. An additional 8,000 doses will follow.

Administering the VSV-EBOV vaccine in Mbandaka. Epidemiologists have not yet identified the first case, nor do they know how many have been infected.CreditJunior Kannah/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The W.H.O. is monitoring more than 900 contacts throughout Équateur province. As the vaccination program expands to the Bikoro and Iboko communities, where most cases have been reported, teams are relying on contact tracing to identify the most urgent recipients.

“This is where everything gets more complicated,” said Chiran Livera, the operation leader in Congo for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The villages surrounding Bikoro and Iboko are among the most isolated and densely wooded pockets of Congo. Aid workers must use motorbikes to navigate cratered dirt roads that flood during the rainy season. Maps of some regions are incomplete, and vast gaps in cellular service thwart efforts to report data to central operations.

“Following the virus’s narrative may sounds easy to do on a suburban street outside Chicago,” said Dr. Salama. “But when you’re traveling hundreds of kilometers in a forest by motorbike to find each person, that’s very different epidemiological work.”

If the outbreak worsens, a second vaccination may be offered to health workers. That vaccine, developed by Johnson and Johnson, requires two doses and would take longer than VSV-EBOV’s seven to 10 days to become effective — but may protect health workers for several years.

The Congolese Ministry of Health is planning to deploy up to five experimental treatments, though the two most highly recommended by the W.H.O. may prove impractical in a remote setting.

ZMapp, a cocktail of three antibodies used in West Africa, must be given in multiple doses and must be refrigerated. Remdesivir, a drug developed by Gilead Sciences, requires intensive monitoring of liver and kidney function — nearly impossible for treatment centers without electricity, running water or standard equipment.

Another option, called MAb114, began safety trials earlier this month. Made from the antibodies of an Ebola survivor, it can be crystallized and reconstituted with saline-like fluids in the field.

“These are all investigative products,” Dr. Salama said. Vaccine makers have struggled to show efficacy without live Ebola cases in which to test their drugs. “Many consider this outbreak their chance to prove themselves,” he said.

Drug companies are not alone in that mission.

The W.H.O.’s emergency committee gathered 10 days after the Congolese government notified the organization of an Ebola case, a stark contrast to the West African epidemic in 2014, when the group did not convene until almost 1,000 people had died.

Health care workers arriving at Ngobila Beach in Kinshasa to screen others coming into Kinshasa. The capital of 10 million is less than 500 miles downriver from the outbreak.CreditJohn Bompengo/Associated Press

Since May 8, the W.H.O. has sent 156 technical experts to the region. A mobile laboratory has been set up to expedite case confirmations in Bikoro; another is planned for Mbandaka. A cellular tower has been erected in Mbandaka to help workers trace people who may have been infected throughout the region.

The W.H.O. has more than doubled its budget request to $56 million from $26 million to account for the possibility of the virus may reach an urban setting.

“The biggest problem of 2014 was that there had never been an Ebola epidemic before,” said Ron Klain, the White House’s Ebola response coordinator for West Africa. “This time, there is an intensity, a focus, a pace. No one is underestimating the risk, and that alone is a big advantage.”

Another advantage is context: Unlike West Africa, Congo has experienced eight previous Ebola outbreaks since the virus was identified in 1976. Aid workers who arrived in Kinshasa this month found pre-established surveillance protocols, according to Mr. Livera.

The W.H.O.’s strategy assumes the virus will ultimately infect 100 to 300 people. Each rural case may infect 10 contacts, and each urban case may infect 30. Response activities may continue into July, according to a revised plan released May 27.

Until investigators identify the index case, it is impossible to discern whether the first patient detected in April was truly the first human case or the hundredth, according to Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, the regional director of Unicef. Until then, it is impossible to quantify the crisis.

“These are the early days of the outbreak,” Dr. Salama said. “There can be lulls. We’ve seen that before. But there only needs to be one event — a super-spreader, like a funeral — to cause an explosion.”

Trilobites: Only Two of These Rhinos Survive. Scientists See Promise in Resurrecting Them.

Even if the technology can bring back the northern white rhinoceros, should we do it?

Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, who died March 20 at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. CreditSan Diego Zoo Global

With the right advances in assisted reproduction or cloning, there could be a second chance for this “unique form of rhinoceros,” said Oliver Ryder, director of conservation genetics at San Diego Zoo Global.

Dr. Oliver Ryder, of the San Diego Zoo Global’s Frozen Zoo, inspecting cell cultures from a store of tissue and genetic material.CreditSan Diego Zoo Global
Nola, a northern white rhino at the San Diego Zoo, died in 2015.CreditSan Diego Zoo Global
A sample from the Frozen Zoo at San Diego, which holds thousands of specimens from many species.CreditSan Diego Zoo Global

Earlier reporting on rhinoceroses