Could an African Side Win the 2014 World Cup?

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Could an African Side Win the 2014 World Cup?
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Sir Alf Ramsey would boast to the media that England were going to win prior to a major tournament. Current national team manager Roy Hodgson has instead chosen to temper expectations ahead of the 2014 World Cup—not only for the Three Lions, but also Europe as a whole.

Writing in the programme notes for Italy's friendly with Nigeria on Monday evening, Hodgson claimed an African team might have a better chance of winning the World Cup in Brazil next summer than a European one, as per David Kent in an article in The Daily Mail.

Those with a passing interest in geography and meteorology might be puzzled by the England coach's assertions about the heat: June and July are the height of winter in Brazil, with the maximum average temperature typically reaching only 25°C.

The heat, however, is not the issue. Humidity in Rio will very seldom drop below 50 percent, and the dew point will usually feel uncomfortably muggy. 

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It is here that the African nations will supposedly gain an advantage over their European counterparts even though heat and humidity vary wildly across the continent. But could the upper hand as far as climate is concerned be enough for one of them to shock the world with a World Cup triumph?

In all likelihood, no.

Five CAF nations will appear in Brazil next year, all of whom will be confirmed by Tuesday. At the moment, Ivory Coast and Ghana appear to have unassailable first-leg leads, while the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon and Burkina Faso's fates still hang in the balance.

The Ivory Coast are perhaps deemed the strongest African nation, with a strong contingent playing at a high level in Europe (the only two players in the squad to play domestically are reserve goalkeepers) and a continent-leading FIFA Ranking of 17th.

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Ghana—who have no homegrown players in their strong squad—are also worthy contenders, perhaps based on their impressive quarterfinal appearance in the last tournament. 

The bookmakers, however, do not see the Elephants or the Black Stars as a threat. According to oddschecker.com, Ivory Coast are the 20th favourite to win, with odds of around 200/1. Ghana are 18th, with slightly less demeaning odds of 125/1. 

If Hodgson would prefer to bet on an African side than a European one, he clearly likes a long shot. 

The Guardian's world football expert, Jonathan Wilson, notes that African nations are now more competitive and boast a greater breadth of talent, but he is not so quick to suggest that football on that continent is progressing.

On that basis, it's very hard to see why an African side would improve on the quarterfinal stage, which has been the best finish of Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal in previous iterations.

Hodgson probably doesn't believe that an African team will go all the way in Brazil, but is using this proclamation to manage expectations for Three Lions fans going into the tournament.

Rather than spewing the false hope that has been perpetuated by the red-top newspapers before every tournament in recent decades, the national coach appears to be trying to exclude his side from contention, suggesting it is the turn of another plucky underdog to shine. 

Judging by the apathetic display against Chile on Friday evening, his lack of enthusiasm is well-founded. 

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Hodgson's pro-African stance also appears to ignore the continental elephant in the room: Countries from Europe, Africa or any other FIFA zone are quite likely to finish second-best to the South Americans.

Lest we forget that World Cups held in the Americas have always been won by a South American nation. Italy couldn't overcome Brazil at USA '94, Argentina proved too strong for West Germany at Mexico '86, Uruguay upset hosts Brazil in an all-South American final in 1950—the list goes on.

Argentina and Brazil may both have their weaknesses, but history suggests that they will do better than Germany, Spain or any CAF representatives.

The Daily Mail noted that Pele once tipped an African nation to win the World Cup by the end of the 20th century. That unlikely dream never came to pass, and it seems Roy Hodgson's premonition will suffer a similar fate. 

 

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