5 African Nations to Steal the Show at the 2014 World Cup
The Afcon may have ended only recently, but Africa’s nations are already in the midst of a gruelling qualifying campaign that will see five of them claim the continent’s spots in Brazil’s summer showpiece.
Only Tunisia have ever represented the continent at a World Cup on South American shores before (in the oppressive Argentina of 1978), but with African football ever increasing in prominence and stature, one of these teams may be poised to attain an unprecedented level of success.
Here, I profile the five teams in the best stead to make a significant impact in 18 months time.
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They may seem like a strange choice for this list following their disappointing Afcon campaign, but from the embers of humiliation may emerge an Elephants side primed to shed the shackles of a decade of underachievement.
While the much-vaunted Golden Generation may be calling collective time on their international careers, and gently slipping off into the Ivorian sunset, Elephants fans need not despair. As I explored recently, behind every aging superstar is a young gun ready to step up and take his place.
Indeed, with a potential forward line boasting the triumvirate of Lacina Traore, Seydou Doumbia and Wilfried Bony, the CIV may well have some of the most potent attacking in the competition. Don’t forget the likes of Gervinho and Yaya Toure, who will still be guiding lights in a side poised for a revival.
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I am wholeheartedly subscribed to the philosophy that football’s fates and fortunes work in cycles. While Cameroon may seem in the international doldrums at this point in time, anything can change in 18 months and the 2014 World Cup may see an upturn in prosperity.
Fans of the national side will be hoping that an unlikely defeat to the minnows of Cape Verde proves to be the nadir for a collection of players that have never managed to deliver on their immense potential.
Consider their options. With a spine potentially containing the likes of Carlos Kameni, Nicolas N’Koulou, Sebastien Bassong, Stephane Mbia, Joel Matip and Alex Song, as well as characters such as Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Willie Overtoom and Vincent Aboubakar providing decoration and drive, the Central Africans could, if on form, be a match for anyone.
Could the difference be Samuel Eto’o? Arguably Africa’s finest ever player, the Anzhi icon returned to the national side for the second leg against Cape Verde. He will be 33 by the time the World Cup rolls around, surely one final chance to imitate his hero Roger Milla and guide the Lions deep into the knockout stages on the globe’s finest stage will be incentive enough for the former Barcelona star.
Currently sitting third in their qualification group, The Indomitable Lions will need to best the likes of Libya, Togo and Congo to advance—it is certainly a big ask, but with Eto’o at the helm, anything is possible.
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While Cameroon and the Ivory Coast have endured their own hard-luck stories in recent years, their toil is nothing compared to the devastation wreaked upon the nation of Egypt and their erstwhile continental champions over the last two years.
While the Arab Spring showered North Africa with optimism and hope, the remnants of the conflict and the divergent political ambitions of the nations’ protagonists have often muddied the transition to stability and security. This has been evident in Egypt, where the Port Said massacre of February 2012 provided ample and vivid evidence of the ongoing tensions in the nation.
Football, particularly with its close links to politics, has suffered—and the national side’s record-breaking cycle of the mid-noughties has been consigned to the history books.
However, there are green shoots of promise for the Pharaohs: Al Ahly’s recent Champions League triumph was an emphatic display of resilience and endurance, the U23-team’s Olympic display was impressive and organised, while there is genuine talent emerging, not least Basle forward Mohamed Salah.
Currently topping their qualifying group, there could be few better fillips for the North African powerhouse than a first World Cup qualification since 1990.
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Not since 1994 have African Champions prospered at a World Cup. In the heat of an American summer, a Nigeria side featuring the likes of Daniel Amokachi, Emmanuel Amuneke and the late Rashidi Yekini topped a tricky group before succumbing to an extra-time penalty winner from Roberto Baggio and eventual finalists Italy.
Could history repeat itself 20 years on?
Currently in pole position to progress from a fairly straightforward group containing Malawi, Kenya and Namibia, their triumph in South Africa surely makes the Super Eagles odds-on to seal a finals place. Having only failed to qualify once (in 2006) since their impressive performances in the US, Nigeria could well be looking to improve on their recent, underwhelming record at the international high table.
Stephen Keshi’s young side won many admirers at the Cup of Nations, where victories against the Ivory Coast and Mali suggested there is genuine class to underpin an evident ethic and togetherness. Chelsea duo John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses have shown themselves to be the jewels on the crown of the West African giants, and both are likely to see their influence increase ahead of the Brazilian Mondiale.
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It may seem counter-intuitive that three of my five ‘nations who could impress’ failed to qualify for the recent Cup of Nations. The surprising thing is not that I am championing these nations, but that with the resources available to them, they failed to book their place to South Africa 2013.
Senegal, of course, like Egypt, have an excuse—CAF’s slightly hurried qualification system saw the Lions of Teranga drawn against the giants of the Ivory Coast.
A 4-2 thriller in Abidjan gave the Elephants the advantage, before a Drogba double in Dakar saw the Ivorians ease to qualification. The ugly scenes that followed suggest that the relationship between the public and the national side is not all it could be; indeed, the West Africans have been flattering to deceive for sometime now.
The generation of Diao, Diouf, et. al., the legends of 2002, have gently been eased out of the side, and a new breed of Senegalese talents playing their football right across the globe are taking the responsibility for the side’s fortunes. As usual, the bulk of the squad are seasoned professionals, plugging away in the French leagues, while there are a handful of stars who could make the difference in the upper echelons of international football.
Newcastle United fans are well aware of the devastating capabilities of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, and the pair could well lead the Lions of Teranga to the glamour and glory of Brazil.
Ed can be contacted on Twitter @Eddydove