Africa’s five World Cup representatives approached Friday’s draw with both excitement and trepidation. As things stood by the end of the day, three of the nations can be perfectly content with how things have unfolded, while a further two have every right to be concerned by their chances of success in Brazil.
It is incredibly unlikely that all five African sides will escape the group stage, but the continent should at least improve on 2010 when, on home soil, only Ghana made it to the knockout rounds.
The five teams are presented here in order of draw difficulty, with the hardest draw first and the easiest last.
While in general, Africa’s prospects for next summer have been helped, rather than hindered by the Group Stage draw, this doesn't apply for Ghana.
This is particularly unfortunate as the Black Stars have, within the squad, the talent to replicate their fantastic run to the quarter-finals in 2010.
Such a successful tournament looks to be a distant dream now as Kwesi Appiah’s men have found themselves drawn alongside Germany, the United States and Portugal.
It’s almost the toughest possible draw.
Germany are one of the tournament’s giants and will look to be reaching the final, let alone escaping the group. The match between the two, on June 21, will likely see the two Boateng brothers, Kevin-Prince and Jerome, go head-to-head once again in a fascinating little subplot.
Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo in resplendent form, will pose a major threat, and it will take a massive effort for the Black Stars to overcome the Selecao das Quinas.
Finally, the United States complete the group. They are arguably the toughest team that Ghana could have drawn from Pot 3 and represent an uncomfortable opening fixture for the Black Stars.
The West Africans will, however, take solace from the fact that they beat the U.S. men's national team in Nuremberg in the 2006 World Cup—a repeat will be necessary, and maybe not even enough, to make the knockout stage.
Cameroon open against a Mexican side who struggled to even qualify for the competition. They only managed fourth spot in the CONCACAF qualification programme and only guaranteed their spot in Brazil following the ignominy of a double-headed intercontinental play-off with New Zealand.
New boss Miguel Herrera can boast of some excellent individual talents, but he needs to build morale and develop a more convincing approach over the coming months.
Croatia also have some excellent players and talent throughout the side, not to mention experience and some fairly recent World Cup pedigree. Their recent form has, however, been underwhelming. They also required a play-off to make it to the high table but were hardly impressive in defeat of Iceland.
Finally, Brazil, hosts and the tournament’s most successful side—they need little introduction, but rest assured that Volker Finke will spend extensive time researching the Selecao and attempting to find weaknesses in their back line.
All three of Cameroon’s opponents have fine World Cup pedigrees, and so the Indomitable Lions’ chances of progression look, at first glance, fairly slim.
However, neither Croatia nor Mexico are invincible and the Central Africans are more than capable of remaining resolute and stealing a win against either side.
Playing Brazil in Brasilia in the group’s final fixture will doubtless be a massive challenge for Finke’s men, but it is not impossible that they could upset the odds. Should Brazil already have qualified, then it is not impossible that they might rest a few players and slip up. They did just that in the group stage in 1998.
Cameroon actually have a fine track record against South American sides at the high table. They beat Argentina, memorably, in 1990, Colombia, drew with Peru and Chile and have lost only once, to Brazil, in 1994.
Having been handed dreadful draws in 2006 and 2010, finally the Cote d’Ivoire have a group that they can approach with optimism rather than trepidation. In past tournaments, they found themselves up against the likes of Argentina, Holland, Portugal and Brazil and were almost eliminated before a ball had even been kicked.
In Brazil, however, a field of Colombia, Japan and Greece gives the Elephants a chance to escape the group stage for the first time in history.
None of the three teams will be easy opponents, however; Japan are Asian champions and gave a good account of themselves at the Confederations Cup, Colombia boast the lethal firepower of Monaco pair James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, while Greece are a pragmatic side who know how to make the most out of their abilities at a major tournament.
Drogba, the Toure Brothers, Zokora and Co. are certainly capable of escaping the group and making it to the last 16. If they are to do this, however, they will need to approach the tournament with a quiet confidence, but not arrogance, a broad respect for their opponents, but not fear, and a relaxed outlook, avoiding complacency.
Finally, the Golden Generation have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in a major international competition—it will not come around again.
While nobody would choose to receive Argentina and Lionel Messi in their World Cup group, Nigeria will head into the meeting with more optimism than most.
Indeed, the World Cup draw was greeted with excitement and delight when the two sides were pitted together.
When the two teams met at the Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg in the World Cup group stage four years ago, the Super Eagles may have lost 1-0, but they frustrated their more illustrious opponents for long stretches of the contest.
Vincent Enyeama, whose recent form with Lille has earned him extensive praise, was the Man of the Match on that occasion. The expert stopper will look to go one better when the two sides meet on June 25 in Porto Alegre.
Nonetheless, Nigeria should realistically aim to accompany Argentina into the last 16, rather than pip them to top spot.
Iran are a combative side but should be overcome, while Bosnia are one of the weaker European teams that the Super Eagles could have encountered.
Stephen Keshi hoped for a “favourable draw” before the day began, according to Kick Off Nigeria. He won’t be disappointed.
Perversely, Africa’s weakest side have found themselves in a wonderful position following the group stage draw.
Belgium, for all their star power, are one of the weaker seeds and remain an unknown quantity on the world stage—it will have been 12 years since their last finals appearance.
The Korea Republic and Russia are both sides with fine individual talents, but they perhaps lack the quality across the board to prosper next summer. Algeria will certainly not fear either side and will fancy themselves to sneak into the knockout stages behind Belgium.
The North Africans have never been there before, but they will never again get an opportunity as promising as this to break into the last 16.