Predicting the FIFA World Cup If Every Nation Qualified: Group C
Group C is an all-African affair, with Gambia, Mali, Cameroon and Mozambique all vying for a coveted place in the knockout rounds.
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon are the most worldwide-known African team in the group, having made it to the finals of the FIFA World Cup six times and fielding world superstars such as Samuel Eto'o and Alex Song.
Mali, despite not being as exposed to the world stage as Cameroon, is an extremely strong side and is ranked a lot higher by FIFA than any of its groupmates, hanging on to a 27th-place ranking, compared to Cameroon's 71st, Mozambique's 99th and Gambia's 131st (via FIFA.com).
African teams tend to display a very exciting brand of football, so let's take a look at how the all-African Group C played out.
Game 1: Gambia 0-4 Mali
Mali got its World Cup campaign off to a flying start with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Gambia. Les Aigles never looked to allow Gambia into the game as the Malian midfielders monopolized possession all game.
Bordeaux striker Cheick Diabate broke the deadlock in the 39th minute after latching onto an awful backpass from Gambian defender Ousman Koli. Diabate went one-on-one with keeper Christopher Allen before slotting the ball through Allen's legs to open the scoring.
Despite mounting pressure from Mali, Gambia hung on to the 0-1 scoreline heading into the half. Gambia came out of the tunnel and pressed more thoroughly to start the second half, with striker Momodou Ceesay rattling the bar with a header off Mustapha Jarju's corner.
For all of Gambia's second-half pressure, they couldn't find an equalizer, and found themselves 2-0 down in the 63rd minute. Mali keeper Soumbeila Diakite made a routine save from Ceesay's tame shot and quickly found Abdou Traore out on the wing.
The midfielder sent a long ball toward West Ham striker Modibo Maiga, who settled the ball with his chest out of the path of onrushing defender Mamadou Denso. One brilliant chip over Allen later and Mali were 2-0 up.
Mali found their third goal in the 76th minute through Queens Park Rangers midfielder Samba Diakite who, after a beautiful give-and-go with captain Seydou Keita, curled the ball around the hapless Allen into the far right side netting.
And in the 90th minute, Mali compounded its opponents' misery by getting a fourth, last-minute goal through left-back Adama Tamboura. The defender waltzed down the left flank, cut inside the Gambia defense and rifled a shot past Allen's near post.
Predictable, comprehensive first win for Mali; dejection for Gambia.
Game 2: Cameroon 2-0 Mozambique
It was the tale of two center-backs for Cameroon against Mozambique, as Aurelien Chedjou and substitute Stephane Mbia both got on the scoresheet from the back-line to give Cameroon a 2-0 win.
Cameroon's free-scoring forward duo of Samuel Eto'o (who finally decided to participate in a Cameroon match) and Eric Choupo-Moting were stifled all night by Mozambican center-backs Joao Mazive and Zainadine Junior, so it was up to the back-line to find goals from elsewhere.
Chedjou opened the scoring in the 34th minute with a thumping header from Alex Song's corner that keeper Nelson Pinto had no chance of keeping out.
Eto'o and Choupo-Moting weren't allowed any purchase on the ball due to the excellent play of Mozambique's defense, but other than their defensive prowess, Mozambique rarely did anything to pressure Cameroon.
The second goal came as a result of a lapse in defending from Mozambique. Substitute Mbia dribbled the ball almost 60 yards from the back past several Mozambican players before unleashing a powerful 20-yard shot that rose into the top of the net past Pinto. It was quite a remarkable solo effort.
Mozambique, for the most part, defended admirably, while questions will be asked of Cameroon's front line abilities.
Game 3: Gambia 0-2 Cameroon
Gambia's World Cup hopes were dashed as Cameroon scored on either side of the break to take the three points in a 2-0 victory.
Conceding so close to halftime can be extremely demoralizing for a team, but when goals are scored on both sides of the half, a team can just evaporate. This is precisely what happened to Gambia.
Benjamin Moukandjo, who got the start on the left wing, broke the deadlock in the 40th minute. The AS Nancy man outpaced the Gambian left-back Pa Saikou Kujabi, cut inside into the penalty area and curled the ball around keeper Christopher Allen to head into halftime 1-0 up.
Whatever Gambian manager Luciano Mancini said during the break, it didn't make an impact on his players.
46 seconds after the second-half whistle blew, Samuel Eto'o found himself in a pocket of space after a good pass from Landry N'Guemo. The Anzhi striker turned and rocketed the ball past Allen into the bottom right-hand corner from right outside the box to double Cameroon's lead.
Gambia made a few feeble gestures forward, but seemed unwilling to let Cameroon gain a yard of space within the attacking third. The game finished 2-0 and Gambia were doomed to elimination.
Game 4: Mali 2-0 Mozambique
Mali booked theirs and Cameroon's spot into the knockout stages with a comfortable 2-0 win over Mozambique. Two quick goals in the 35th and 38th minutes sealed the deal for the Malians.
Modibo Maiga got on the scoresheet first after some interplay with his strike partner, Cheick Diabate, on the edge of the penalty area. Maiga slipped in past the defense to receive Diabate's wall pass for the easiest of tap-ins to the right side of Nelson Pinto.
Three minutes later, Seydou Keita found himself with acres of space in the middle of the attacking third and ripped a shot from about 25 yards out that knuckled into the bottom left corner. Always dipping and swerving, Nelson was lucky to even get fingertips to it, but it wasn't enough to keep the ball out of the net.
Hit by the one-two punch, Mozambique never recovered and rarely ventured forward for the rest of the match, despite the urgency of the match. It's safe to say they just rolled over and quit offensively.
Game 5: Gambia 1-2 Mozambique
In a meaningless but tense game, Gambia scored its only goal of the tournament but failed to hold off Mozambique, who came from behind to win 2-1, condemning Gambia to a winless tournament.
All the scoring took place early in the first half, with Gambia scoring in just the fourth minute through Momodou Ceesay. Gambia won an early corner and Demba Savage's drilled-in cross found the head of Ceesay, who bullet-ed the ball into the back of the net.
Gambian joy was short-lived, though, as striker Jerry Sitoe equalized for Mozambique in the 10th minute. The UT Arad striker toe-poked the ball past deputy keeper Musa Camara after a mass of confusion inside the penalty area following a failed clearance of Ernesto Stelio's cross.
Parity lasted until the 35th minute, when left-back Almiro Lobo found himself with acres of space up the left flank. Lobo had a lung-bursting run up the sideline and passed it off to Sitoe. Sitoe faked the shot and slid the ball back to Lobo, who had continued his run into the box and sent Camara the wrong way as he slipped the ball past the near post.
2-1 Mozambique and three goals in the first half looked promising in terms of excitement for the second half.
No such luck. The game played itself into a stalemate and it finished 2-1.
Gambia at least scored a goal and Mozambique at least won a game, but both teams would go home disappointed.
Game 6: Mali 3-1 Cameroon
In a game that decided who won Group Africa, Mali came from behind to beat Cameroon 3-1 and clinch the winners' spot in Group C.
Samuel Eto'o again got Cameroon on the scoresheet in the 39th minute with a stinging free kick from about 23 yards away. The ball had no spin on it as the shot dipped and swerved past Soumbeila Diakite to put Cameroon up 1-0.
Mali answered quickly and spectacularly just two minutes later with a wonder goal from Abdou Traore. A corner from Seydou Keita was cleared by the Cameroon defense but only as far as Traore, who took the ball off his chest and hit a sweetly-timed volley right into the top right corner. Goalkeeper Idriss Kameni had no chance.
Mali didn't slow down after equalizing and, in first-half stoppage time, took the lead through Modibo Maiga, who received a pass from Keita at the edge of the box. Maiga feinted left and then spun right with the ball, leaving Aurelien Chedjou in the dust and curled the shot around Kameni and into the side netting.
Cameroon left the pitch to end the first half shell-shocked and disappointed to have allowed two goals in five minutes.
The Indomitable Lions came out roaring in the second half. Both Eto'o and Eric Choupo-Moting rattled the post and Mali keeper Diakite had to be at his best to keep out a thunderous shot from Georges Mandjeck. But for all the Cameroonian pressure, a goal was not forthcoming for them.
Mali hit the final nail in the coffin in the 60th minute through Cheick Diabate. The Bordeaux man rose up to meet Keita's cross from the right flank and nodded home a third to seal Cameroon's place as runners-up in Group C.
Final Group Table
Mali legitimizes its standing as one of Africa's top teams after winning an all-African group. Cameroon might feel a little disappointed at their comprehensive loss to Mali, but a spot in the knockout rounds is a spot nonetheless.
Mozambique can go home with the knowledge that they at least scored World Cup points, while Gambia goes home with nothing but a solitary goal to show for their efforts.
Next up is Group D, which contains Ecuador, Tahiti, the Faroe Islands and tiny Guam. If Ecuador even drops points, it will be a major disappointment for them.