Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Will this be the World Cup where an African nation emerges as a legitimate contender?

Short answer: No. Perhaps it should have been, due to it being the first time the tournament has been held on the African continent, but the fates appear to be conspiring against African teams this time around.

South Africa will have to rely on the home support to carry them, because they are one of the weakest teams at the tournament (ranked 90th in the world). In Steven Pienaar the hosts have a creative player capable of turning a game, and have a potentially dangerous striker in Benni McCarthy (although his best days are behind him). No host nation has ever been knocked out at the group stage, but Bafana Bafana are expected to be the first. Their group consists of France, Mexico and Uruguay, and it's a very open group. France have the talent but whether they can do anything with it is always unpredictable. Look for Uruguay to take second spot, but this group is hard to pick. South Africa could surprise, but it's unlikely.

Nigeria (ranked 20th) is a regular feature at the World Cup, and have made it to the round of 16 twice. But for all their talent, they haven't seemed to put it all together of late. They have a host of top strikers - Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins and Peter Odemwingie, to name a few - but are weaker everywhere else. They are also suffering from the loss of Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel through injury.

The Super Eagles are grouped together with Argentina, Greece and South Korea. Argentina are virtually guaranteed to top the group, but second spot is up for grabs. I think South Korea will nab it, but the Nigerians have a realistic chance. They don't look particularly convincing though, and it's hard to imagine them getting much further.

Ghana (ranked 32 in the world)was the African success story of the 2006 World Cup, making it out of a tough group before going out to Brazil. But the Black Stars' form of late has been indifferent, and to make matters worse they are without star midfielder Michael Essien, who has been injured all year.

Even without Essien's rampaging presence, Ghana's powerful midfield is one of the strongest at the tournament. They boast Italian-based stars like Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah and talismanic captain Stephen Appiah, while Kevin-Prince Boateng and Haminu Dramani can add pace and guile from the wings. But midfield is Ghana's only strength; at the back they are a little suspect, and up front they have few options, with main striker Asamoah Gyan no better than average.

It is hard to see Ghana qualifying from their group, which includes Germany, Australia and Serbia. But while Germany is a lock to progress, second spot is up for grabs, and if they put it all together they could make it to the next step.

One of the teams in the "making up the numbers" category is Algeria (ranked equal 27th in the world). The Desert Foxes somehow overcame African champions Egypt to qualify for their third tournament. But the talent level is just not there. They do have the fortune of being drawn in a relatively weak group though. England should top the group but are not all that convincing; the USA should grab 2nd spot but is not a shoo-in; while Slovenia is well-organised but not all that threatening.

The one African team which most clearly has the talent to make it is the Ivory Coast (ranked equal 27th in the world with Algeria). But their chances have been hamstrung in two ways. Firstly, they are in one of the hardest groups in the tournament; as well as the lowly North Korea, they come up against Brazil (ranked 1st) and Portugal (3rd). This follows on from the previous World Cup when they also landed in the Group of Death.

The Ivorians could surprise, principally because of their superstar striker Didier Drogba. But the Chelsea man, one of the best 10 players in the world right now, fractured his arm in a friendly against Japan and is in doubt.

The team could still surprise, as it has an enviable lineup from top-to-bottom; Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora make an imposing midfield, while Emmanuel Eboue and Kader Keita add inspiration from the wings. Up front, Drogba is complemented by the likes of Salomon Kalou and Gervinho. Also in its favour is Portugal's poor form leading into the tournament. But the Elephants tend to look vulnerable to slip-ups at the back. If the devastating Drogba is in the lineup, this team could accomplish anything; but that's a big if right now.

Cameroon (ranked 19) have the World Cup pedigree of all the African teams, with a quarter-final appearance in 1990. In striker Samuel Eto'o they have a player capable of scoring with aplomb, even if his form is not as sizzling as it was several years ago. Eto'o is unsettled recently, following a red card against Portugal and a spat with legendary Cameroonian ex-player Roger Milla. There is a lot of talent in the team, but the question is how well it functions together; three of their best players (Alex Song, Jean Makoun and Stephane M'bia) are all defensive midfielders, which leads to a selection problem.

The Indomitable Lions find themselves in Group E, alongside Holland, Denmark and Japan. Holland are the favourites, and while Cameroon should beat the other two, they'll be no easybeats. Denmark in particular looked strong in qualification. I think Cameroon will be the only African team to get out of their group, but I'm not convinced they will go any further; they could just as easily bomb out early.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this!!! So wonderfully done - je suis camerounaise. Merci, cherie!!!!