Ghanian fans cheering on their national team during last year’s AFCON tournament
This year, Africa has five teams which qualified for Brazil: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, and Algeria. Each team has been dealt with a rigorous group or isn’t in form. An African team has never made it to the Semi-Finals of the World Cup and only Cameroon in 1990, and Ghana in 2010 have made it to the Quarter-Finals. Hopefully this year we may have a surprise team that makes it far, but from the groupings and recent showings, it may not be so. We’ll start off with Cameroon.
Cameroon are the worst ranked African team that qualified in 56th place in the latest FIFA rankings, but the rankings are poorly made, so I’ll disregard this. Cameroon is a solid team, no doubt, but they lack a rigid defense and truly creative players aside from Alex Song (Barcelona). Samuel Eto’o is in the twilight of his glimmering career, and Vincent Aboubakar doesn’t look ready to lead the Indomitable Lions up front just yet, despite a wonderful season at Lorient, scoring 15+ goals.Aboubakar in full sprint against Switzerland
Individually, Cameroon have a great set of European based players such as Nicolas N’Koulou, Aurelien Chedjou, Joel Matip, Stéphane Mbia, and Landry N’Guémo, but they don’t have much cohesion whatsoever and don’t play together very often, not to mention the strike they did over their World Cup bonuses. Coach Volker Finke has had an uphill task these past couple of years dealing with an unruly squad that doesn’t have chemistry.
They are in Group A and face Brazil, Mexico, and Croatia. Brazil is one of the favorites to win the tournament, Croatia contain several world-class players in their squad, and Mexico’s experiment with Liga MX players, despite being shaky at times, is producing results. If Cameroon don’t step up, they will be surely humbled by their competitors and will exit the competition in the first round.
Ivory Coast was blessed with a “Golden Generation” consisting of players such as Didier Drogba, the Touré Brothers, Romaric, Tiéné, and Didier Zokora. In two World Cups, regardless of being put in consecutive groups of death, only lasted in the group stages. The “Golden Generation” hasn’t won an AFCON either. Now Didier Drogba will captain his side into his last tournament at 36, alongside Yaya and Kolo Touré, and they are the remnants of the “Golden Generation”. Luckily for Ivory Coast, a slew of players have been developed since South Africa to take the reins from their elder teammates. They include Gervinho and Salomon Kalou, who had splendid seasons at Roma and Lille respectively, leading their clubs to the Champions League, Wilfried Bony, who scored 17 goals for Swansea City this season, Serge Aurier, who was Ligue 1’s best Right-Back, Cheik Tioté, and Jean-Daniel Apka-Akpro.
Ivory Coast has a mix of the old and young and has what it takes to advance out of their group. They have been placed in Group C alongside Colombia, one of the dark horses of the tournament, a defensively stout Greece, and the technical Japanese. All four teams are good enough to progress out of their group, but Ivory Coast have a mix of experience and talent, which will serve them well. If any African team can make it far this year, it’s Les Elephants.
Nigeria have never been too amazing at the World Cup, but this year may be a little different. They have a solid backbone to their squad and play good football. The Super Eagles won the last AFCON and look set to challenge for a spot in the knockout rounds. Their main players consist of Vincent Enyeama, who has become an exceptional goalkeeper these past few seasons for Lille, Kenneth Omeruo, a 20 year old Center-Back who impressed this season at Middlesbrough in the nPower Championship in England this season. John Obi Mikel of English giants Chelsea, is another vital piece in the puzzle for Nigeria, as his vision and passing will give Nigeria a different dimension when on the attack. Ahmed Musa, Emmanuel Emenike, and Victor Moses are all European based forwards who can be decisive for them as well.
They are led by coach Stephen Keshi, who is a native coach, not foreign. He elects to have a physical, quick team with a a strong defense. They play against the opponent an play a counterattacking game. Nigeria have all the components to succeed, but may be stopped in their tracks. Their group, Group F is a strange group. Argentina, who boast a very talented team, and two world-class forwards in Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuain, alongside arguably the best player in the world in Lionel Messi, await Nigeria. Underdogs Bosnia, who also happen to have great players and understated chemistry, and Iran, who are unknowns at the present, are hard to plan against from a tactical aspect. They face one of the best teams in the world, a very underrated side, and a squad which is ambiguous. Keshi will have to be cautious when fielding his team, because in a tricky group such as this, one mistake may cost Nigeria dearly.
Ghana recently have been Africa’s best performers in international competitions. They made it to the round of 16 in the 2006 World Cup, and famously were denied a Semi-Final spot in 2010, thanks to a Luis Suarez handball. This team seems weaker than their 2010 squad but it isn’t. Players like Andre Ayew, captain Asamoah Gyan, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Sulley Muntari, and Jonathan Mensah have grown since the last World Cup. Michael Essien is a shadow of himself during his Chelsea stint, and this will be his last World Cup, but he brings experience and leadership to a very young Ghanian team. Their team is only bringing one player who is 30 or over, Essien.
The team was imperious in qualifying, and just dismantled South Korea 4-1 in preparations for the World Cup. They are the most competitive African team, but sadly they have been placed in the “group of death”. Group G includes Germany, one of the heavy favorites for the tournament, Portugal who boast midfield maestro Joao Mourinho and Ballon D’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, and fierce international rivals USA. It will take a truly massive effort to stop the German machine, Portugal’s best, and the US, who are a true sleeper team that can surprise us all. It will take true grit, and ability to make it out of this group, but Ghana has a chance.
Algeria are probably the team with the least renown players that made it to Brazil, but that shouldn’t be held against them. However, what should be held against them would be their weak performance at the AFCON tournament last year, and they barely scraped past Burkina Faso in World Cup qualifying. Even with the stability coach Valid Halidhodzic has brought to the side, they look don’t look up to the challenge. Soufiane Feghouli will be their key player in the tournament and the winger from Valencia will have his work cut for him to create something for The Desert Warriors. Other players who will play a part are youngsters Nabil Bentaleb, a defensive midfielder who plays for Tottenham Hotspur in England, and Faouzi Ghoulam, a Left-Back who plays for Napoli in Italy.
They did very well in the first stages of qualification and have some good technical players, but they are young or experienced. It seems as if they won’t shine this World Cup, but the next they might. They face Belgium, Russia, and South Korea in Group H. I don’t see them making it out of the group stage unless Russia slips against them or South Korea, but there is always an opportunity for Algeria to sneak out through into the knockout rounds. Anything can happen on the biggest stage.