Could next summer’s World Cup be a breakthrough tournament for Africa’s international sides? Ten teams are still in the running—all with differing levels of optimism—and five of them will get the privilege to represent the continent at next summer’s centrepiece.
Could one of them achieve more than any of Africa’s sides to date and earn a spot in the semifinals?
This article profiles five African players who could make a major impact at Brazil 2014. Naturally, none of them is guaranteed a spot in the tournament just yet, but all five will be confident of representing their sides next summer.
While one spot is up for grabs in Nigeria’s midfield, it is a near certainty that (form and fitness permitting) Ogenyi Onazi will be joining John Obi Mikel in the heart of the midfield.
Since making his debut for the national side in 2012 and then installing himself as a national team regular during the 2013 Cup of Nations, the young Lazio man has emerged as an integral part of Stephen Keshi’s plans.
His terrific anticipation, boundless energy and fine tackling ability were sorely missed during the Confederations Cup in the summer, when the clunky Fegor Ogude just couldn’t compensate for Onazi’s injury.
Despite still being only 20 years old, Onazi is maturing into a valuable part of Lazio’s first XI. The capital club has only lost twice this season while the Nigerian has been involved.
With the national side, Onazi allows Mikel to flourish. Onazi’s determined and disciplined work permits the languid Mikel to realise his creative potential—so often stymied at Chelsea. Mikel is confident in the knowledge that the youngster will regain the ball if lost.
I would argue that Sulley Muntari is one of the most underrated African players in history.
The Ghanaian midfielder has featured in two World Cups. He has won the Champions League, two major league titles (with Milan) and a further five honours, including the Club World Cup in 2010.
Despite this, the former Portsmouth man has had a strange career, and I don’t believe he has received the recognition he deserves.
Ghana could quite realistically have two passable midfields heading into the World Cup next summer. There are the players who have manned the fort over the last few years, and then there are the big guns who have returned to the international fold now that Brazil ’14 is on the horizon.
Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and, to a lesser extent, Andre Ayew have all downed tools at various stages over the last few years, but now they have returned to take their places alongside Kwadwo Asamoah, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu and Muntari.
Next summer, that lot, supporting Asamoah Gyan, could be a devastating prospect. Muntari—as the grizzled, tenacious defensive midfielder in the pack—will be an experienced head and a vital cog in Kwesi Appiah’s machine.
Perhaps, in one year’s time, should the Black Stars have a successful tournament, Muntari will achieve the status his honours and talents merit.
Bojan, Erik Lamela and Dani Osvaldo have barely been missed at Roma since their departures this summer. The capital club has coped remarkably well despite losing such influential stars and currently sits in the top spot in Serie A, having run away with the lead in the opening weeks of the season.
Gervinho ought to take a lot of credit for the Romans’ blistering early-season form.
He has adapted well to life in Italy and is thriving alongside the likes of Francesco Totti and Miralem Pjanic. The team is direct and creative, and this style is suiting Gervinho down to the ground.
It is no secret that he is a "confidence player," whose fragile mental state has occasionally seen him lapse into phases of poor form. With him having found his feet at Roma, the Cote d’Ivoire will now surely benefit.
The West African giants regularly dominate games in the continental arena; however, next summer they will likely find themselves against bigger, stronger teams and will thus need to adapt to the changing demands.
Gervinho could be vital. His top-end experience and fine, direct running are major assets to the Elephants’ offensive. On song, he could trouble a defence or two next summer.
Burkina Faso forward Aristide Bance may lack the technical prowess and global reputation of some of the others on this list, but he is quickly developing a cult following.
The first leg of the Stallions’ World Cup playoff against Algeria demonstrated why so many find this eccentric footballing character so engaging.
The Fortuna Dusseldorf man oscillated from hero to villain during the contest. He missed an early penalty and then endured the aching guilt of an Algerian comeback to level the score at 2-2. Late on, he absolved himself with another (this time successful) penalty.
Certainly, the decision to award a spot-kick may have been dubious, but the fans in attendance barely cared, as Bance stepped up and put his previous aberrations behind him.
The striker is energetic, offers a fine physical presence and is more than capable of stretching opposition defences next summer.
I wrote, earlier in the month, that even though he may not be one of the World Cup’s stars, he could easily be one of its characters.
With new recruits pushing the young Nigerian forward out of Chelsea, a loan move to Liverpool is possibly the best possible compromise for Victor Moses.
This season could be a hugely developmental period in the 22-year-old’s career.
At Liverpool, he has been playing regular football and dovetailing superbly with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Over the last 12 months, I have seen more evidence of the creative side of Moses’ game. He was innovative and devastating at the African Cup of Nations and has been demonstrating his abilities in the Premier League so far this season.
His debut for the Reds, against Swansea in Wales, was a perfect example of the terrific dimensions of his game. The former Wigan man scored and was named Man of the Match, before being replaced in the 81st minute.
Stephen Keshi will just be hoping that the return to fitness of Philippe Coutinho does not push Moses to the periphery at Anfield.