Complete African World Cup Weekend Preview

Ed Dove@EddydoveContributor IIINovember 14, 2013

Complete African World Cup Weekend Preview

0 of 5

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Places are filling up fast for the World Cup in Brazil next summer.

    Including hosts Brazil, 21 of the selection of 32 are already known to us. Mexico and Uruguay took giant steps toward joining them this week, with mammoth first-leg triumphs over New Zealand and Jordan respectively, while the European play-offs begin with a number of tantalising clashes on Friday evening.

    Then, on Saturday, the focus will return to Africa.

    Only 10 teams remain in the hunt for a spot at next summer’s extravaganza. By the end of play on Tuesday night, 10 will have become five as Africa’s play-offs come to a close.

    This piece looks ahead to the five fixtures and considers the likely outcomes. 

Cote D’Ivoire vs. Senegal

1 of 5

    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    The State of Play

    Less than 50 minutes into their first leg against Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire looked to have their World Cup spot already sewn up. The Elephants led 3-0.

    A late, late Papiss Cisse retort slightly tarnished the result, but the Ivorians will be confident of qualifying for their third consecutive World Cup.


    The Principal Actor

    The indefatigable Didier Drogba scored in the first leg, while Yaya Toure is a powerhouse in midfield. However, the key man for Cote d’Ivoire at the moment is Gervinho. The Roma wideman is in blistering form, and is one of the main reasons why the capital club sit atop Serie A after 12 games.

    Should he arrive for the second leg on song, his pace and direct running will be major concerns for Senegal, particularly as the Lions of Teranga push forward in search of the goals required to get them back into the contest.


    The Neutral’s Choice

    Senegal can boast of a plethora of superb attacking talent. If they are firing, they could be a threat (and an entertaining one) against anyone next summer.

    However, the vote here has to go for Cote d’Ivoire.

    This Golden Generation have found themselves in the "Last Chance Saloon" more times than they’d care to remember. Next summer will certainly be the final chance for this glorious collection of players to leave a lasting mark on the world stage.


    The Likely Outcome

    It would take a massive effort from Senegal to overcome their neighbours. I cannot see the Lions of Teranga holding firm when faced with the pace and power of the Ivorian attack, though. Nor can I see them breaching their opposition enough to book their flight to Brazil.

    Expect to see Drogba and company earn their final chance for an international reprieve.

Ethiopia vs. Nigeria

2 of 5

    Steve Haag/Getty Images

    The State of Play

    After a scare in front of a rapturous crowd in Addis Ababa, Africa’s champions showed their class as an Emmanuel Emenike brace secured a 2-1 victory.

    This result has given the Super Eagles the belief that they can see out the return leg in Calabar to earn their World Cup invitation.


    The Principal Actor

    With the likes of Joseph Yobo, Ike Uche and Obafemi Martins jettisoned from the national side, a greater burden falls upon Vincent Enyeama and John Obi Mikel, the squad’s two most experienced players.

    Considering the inevitable Ethiopian onslaught, these two cool, calm heads will be vital to the Super Eagles. The squad may have achieved a great deal already, but there are a lot of young players still populating important positions.

    The guidance of the in-form Lille stopper and the Chelsea midfielder—one of the most decorated players in Africa’s history—ought to be enough to nullify the Walias’ threat.


    The Neutral’s Choice

    Nigeria are a fine side, at the beginning of an exciting cycle, and boast some of the continent’s finest players. They are Africa’s champions, after all, and really ought to be present, representing the continent at next summer’s global masterpiece.

    Having said that, qualification for Ethiopia would represent a fairytale. The East African side were one of the continent’s best footballing nations in the late '50s and early '60s, but were absent from the continent’s high table between 1982 and 2013.

    They are an emerging force and play exciting football—if occasionally naïve. It would be a pleasure to have their company at the World Cup, although they would be very unlikely to escape from the group.


    The Likely Outcome

    Nigeria have endured some tricky moments playing before an expectant home crowd at Calabar—not least the stumble against Kenya earlier in the qualifying programme.

    A reassuring memory for the Super Eagles ought to be their 6-1 demolition of Liberia in the equivalent play-off ahead of the last Cup of Nations.

Tunisia vs. Cameroon

3 of 5

    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    The State of Play

    Tunisia and Cameroon largely cancelled each other out as they played out a fairly dour 0-0 draw in Rades.


    The Principal Actor

    Who else but Samuel Eto’o? The Chelsea forward has begun to find form at Stamford Bridge and remains one of Africa’s elite forwards. He will have no qualms about taking on the goalscoring burden for Cameroon, but he may need to inspire the Indomitable Lions' creatively as well, in the absence of other capable midfield innovation.


    The Neutral’s Choice

    This may not be a vintage Cameroon side, but Eto’o is now 32 and has still never truly sparkled at the global centrepiece occasion. Should he fail to make Brazil next summer, that may well spell the end of Eto’o’s Cameroon career, and it would surely leave him unfulfilled on the grandest stage.

    The promise of the former Barcelona man enjoying an international swansong in Brazil is a more enticing prospect than any narrative Tunisia could muster!


    The Likely Outcome

    If Tunisia score first, and early, then Cameroon certainly have the potential to implode as they anticipate another spectacular failure. There is certainly a precedent for a capitulation when victory begins to feel like a distant dream.

    However, if Cameroon can start well, then the home support in Yaounde could well carry them to the big time. Just don’t expect too many goals! 

Ghana vs. Egypt

4 of 5

    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    The State of Play

    Remarkably, the first leg between these two continental heavyweights was more one-sided than Mexico and Uruguay’s triumphs over New Zealand and Jordan.

    The Black Stars won 6-1 in Kumasi, and completely eviscerated the Pharaohs’ World Cup dreams.

    While Egypt struggled with defensive absentees and thus frailties at the back, the West Africans were incredibly effective and completely ruthless. The Pharaohs were out-battled, out-ran and ultimately out-classed.


    The Principal Actor

    Any one of Ghana’s top-class midfielders has the potential to be a match-winner. Together, the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Kwadwo Asamoah, Andre Ayew and Sulley Muntari forge one of the world’s most impressive central midfield stables.

    Michael Essien, despite his injury problems over the last few seasons, remains a fine midfielder. His experience may prove to be critical against Egypt, particularly in the game’s opening stages when the hosts will look to salvage the tie.

    On a personal note, he will be keen to impose himself on the Black Stars once more ahead of next summer. The Chelsea man will be motivated by missing out on the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.


    The Neutral’s Choice

    Should Egypt come back into the tie, then the fans are in for one of the most incredible nights in the history of African football!

    The draw—pitting these two giants together—was unfortunate, as both would be a terrific addition to the World Cup. Joy for Essien, Muntari, Boateng, Asamoah and company is matched only by the disappointment of Mohamed Abou Treika and all the rest of us hoping for a perfect closing chapter to the Pharaohs’ golden era.


    The Likely Outcome

    Even if they had lost only 2-1 in Kumasi, Egypt would have had their work cut out to have salvaged qualification from the return leg in Cairo. The experience and talent manning the Ghana midfield would, I imagine, have proved resolute and have seen out the tie.

    At 6-1 down, it would take something close to a miracle for the Pharaohs to overcome the West African powerhouse.

Burkina Faso vs. Algeria

5 of 5

    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    The State of Play

    A pulsating first tie ended in controversial circumstances as Burkina Faso were awarded a dubious late penalty to win 3-2. Aristide Bance converted the kick, having missed from the spot in the first half, to secure a valuable win for the Stallions.

    Both sides showed resolve as the initiative flipped between them, although neither convinced with some fairly haphazard defending.


    The Principal Actor

    Adlene Guedioura was only introduced as a second-half substitute in the first leg, but the Crystal Palace man has the potential to be a crucial figure for the Desert Foxes.

    In an encounter as tense (and intense) as Tuesday’s clash is likely to be, it will be imperative to win the midfield battle, to settle quickly and get a firm handle on the contest.

    The 6'1" Guedioura could prove to be an important asset for Vahid Halilhodzic.


    The Neutral’s Choice

    It has been a remarkable year for Burkina Faso. They exceeded any realistic expectations at the 2013 Cup of Nations, escaping a group containing holders Zambia and eventual winners Nigeria, before succumbing in the final to the Super Eagles.

    They possess two fantastic players in Alain Traore and BBC African Player of the Year nominee Jonathan Pitroipa, oodles of defensive grit and the colourful Bance.


    The Likely Outcome

    Genuinely too close to call. The home advantage, and the two away goals, will make Algeria favourites. However, who could confidently bet against Burkina Faso tying up their remarkable year with World Cup qualification?