World Cup progress report – Africa
There are six African nations participating in this summer’s World Cup, so it is an endorsement of the continent’s footballing strength that Egypt, a team who will not be present when the big one kicks off, won the recent Africa Cup of Nations.
It was the Pharaohs’ third consecutive victory in that competition – a period of dominance that goes some way to compensate for their absence from the forthcoming World Cup that was painfully enforced by a bitter play-off defeat by rivals Algeria.
Algeria endured a tough Cup of Nations campaign that started with a 3-0 defeat by a weak Malawi outfit and ended with a 4-0 revenge hammering by Egypt in the semi-finals. Their presence in the last four flattered them and they must improve drastically if they are to be competitive in a World Cup group that contains England, USA and Slovenia.
Ghana were runners-up to Egypt last week, but like Algeria, they will not necessarily gain much confidence from that performance – they were outclassed by Cote d’Ivoire in a group that was hit by the absence of Togo and their whole campaign was undermined by a lack of goals.
However, the Black Stars were missing some of their key players, most notably Michael Essien and their good showing in the 2006 World Cup, when they reached the second round, means they should not be discounted this time around.
Nigeria have qualified for their fourth World Cup in five attempts and, along with Greece and South Korea, they will make life tough for Argentina. The Super Eagles are defensively sound and capable of advancing to the knockout stages.
South Africa’s absence from the Cup of Nations shows how weak the hosts are going into the big one. They need to find some of the inspiration South Korea found in 2002 when they staged the tournament. Sadly though, a first round exit seems inevitable for South Africa.
Cameroon showed flashes of their old brilliance in the Cup of Nations, but proved they are fallible at the back and still over-reliant on Samuel Eto’o for attacking inspiration. Netherlands, Japan and Denmark should prove too strong in the summer.
All this means Cote d’Ivoire, quarter final losers to Algeria in the Cup of Nations, are the African team best placed to prosper in the 2010 Football World Cup. They qualified impressively and their strength in depth makes them a good bet to cause an upset in the group of death that comprises Brazil, Portugal and North Korea.
However, there is still a long way to go before the start of the World Cup and many African players are fighting for domestic honours in England.
John Pantsil, who plays for Ghana, will be hoping that his club side Fulham win some silverware this season.
The club are set to face Shakhtar Donetsk later this month, but the UEFA Europa League betting odds suggest the London team are unlikely to progress to the next round of the competition.