10 Big-Name Africans in Danger of Missing the World Cup
We are now less than 70 days away from the World Cup, and the question of participation is growing ever sharper as national coaches begin to finalise their selections and rule players out or in.
The process of finalising the squads of Africa’s five participants is littered with intricate subplots and intriguing narratives. Some of the characters whose places in Brazil are currently in the balance will end up making the trip to the World Cup; others, however, will not be so lucky.
This article profiles 10 big-name African players who are in danger of missing out on the centrepiece occasion altogether.
Ahead of the 2013 Cup of Nations, there was very little clamour for Peter Odemwingie to return to the Nigeria squad. Back then, the forward was at odds with West Bromwich Albion and responded to his omission from the tournament squad by lashing out at coach Stephen Keshi on Twitter.
A combination of his return to form at Stoke City and the deficiencies of Nigeria’s other attacking options have suddenly made Odemwingie the flavour of the month.
Bringing back such a potentially divisive figure risks destabilising Keshi’s close-knit Super Eagles squad, but the noises coming from both men—as reported by Kick Off Nigeria—are that things have been patched up.
Odemwingie will likely have the chance to impress ahead of the World Cup, but if the former Cardiff City forward doesn’t pass this final audition and toe the line, he can forget about a fairytale return to the national side.
As the matches go by and the World Cup draws closer, Sebastien Bassong’s chances of returning to the Indomitable Lions’ squad in time for Brazil seem to get slimmer and slimmer.
In truth, Cameroon have such a plethora of options for the central defensive roles that the Norwich captain’s absence wouldn’t tangibly affect their chances at the World Cup.
Nonetheless, to see such an established performer shunned so comprehensively makes for strange viewing.
He hasn’t been involved in the last seven matchday squads, and it’s been much longer since he last played for the Indomitable Lions. That doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon.
Towering forward Lacina Traore seems to be locked in a three-way battle with Wilfried Bony and Seydou Doumbia. Only one of the three men will be able to spearhead the Cote d’Ivoire in their 4-3-3 formation once Didier Drogba retires.
The 2014 World Cup could be viewed as the ideal “passing of the torch," Drogba’s final hour with the Elephants and the chance for one of the young calves to make a lasting impression on the grandest stage of all.
However, as Bony impresses at Swansea—who now plan to “build a team around him,” per BBC Sport—Traore has endured a torrid time at Everton.
Ever since his debut goal (incidentally, against the Swans), he has been injured and, despite Roberto Martinez’s insistence that the hitman will play before the season’s end, it doesn’t look good.
With Bony and Doumbia eager to audition for the role of Drogba’s successor and Sabri Lamouchi also keen on Basel frontman Giovanni Sio, Traore is in danger of ending up as the odd man out.
Algeria had a coup when former France youth star and Internazionale starlet Ishak Belfodil opted to represent the land of his birth at the senior international level.
Since then, there’s not been too much to celebrate, as his troubled switch in allegiance has yet to bear fruit.
He appeared out of his depth and maladroit during his opening six months at Inter and did little to suggest that he deserved either the transfer fee or the club’s prestigious No. 7 shirt.
As his discontentment grew in Lombardy, he was loaned out to Livorno to rediscover some form.
Ten games and zero goals later, we’re still waiting.
Vahid Halilhodzic ignored Belfodil for the Desert Foxes’ recent friendly against Slovenia—has he, too, lost faith in Belfodil?
Villarreal forward Ikechukwu Uche finds himself in a similar position to Odemwingie.
Based on on-field talent and recent form alone, he would travel to Brazil with the Nigeria national side. Indeed, Uche, even more so than Odemwingie, could easily and directly be considered as a solution to the ineffective forward line that threatens to derail the Super Eagles’ summer.
But Keshi doesn’t agree.
The manager hasn’t forgiven Uche for his actions and contributions during the 2013 Cup of Nations, when he was usurped as the team’s leading frontman by Emmanuel Emenike.
Keshi is displeased with Uche’s off-field petulance and lack of professionalism. There is also the sense that the Big Boss doesn’t consider the Villarreal forward—despite his terrific goalscoring form this season—as a natural fit to the tactical approach that Keshi has cultivated.
My colleague Sam Tighe recently suggested that Serge Aurier’s emergence for the Cote d’Ivoire has brought “an end to Emmanuel Eboue’s reign of terror” for the national side.
Tighe is half-right.
It’s totally accurate to point out that Aurier has replaced Eboue in the national team pecking order, but the subsequent comment doesn’t do justice to the former Arsenal man’s international career.
Admittedly, he and with the rest of the Golden Generation have too often choked on the grand occasion, but the right-back has amassed almost 80 caps, has played his part in some big victories and has been a fine servant for the Elephants.
Aurier is clearly an upgrade, though, and Eboue will likely be confirmed as the first of the Golden Generation to fall this summer.
Despite being replaced during the 2013 Cup of Nations in Nigeria’s starting XI by youngster Kenneth Omeruo and being entirely overlooked in the subsequent 12 months, Joseph Yobo has never been replaced as the captain of the Super Eagles.
There was always a lingering sentiment that as the World Cup drew nearer, Keshi would once again be tempted to turn to the nation’s record apps holder.
That feeling was confirmed ahead of the Mexico friendly when Yobo was recalled to the squad. The Norwich defender, it seems, had been afforded one final chance to convince the Big Boss of his merit.
Unfortunately, an injury suffered ahead of that match ruled him out of the travelling party. Could Yobo’s chances of a return to the international scene have dissipated along with that injury and the missed opportunity in Mexico?
Adiyiah was one of the stars of the 2009 Under-20 World Cup. Ghana won the tournament, and he earned both the Best Player and the Top Scorer awards—he even scored in the penalty shootout to beat Brazil in the final.
From there, he, along with many of his peers, made a successful transition to the Black Stars’ senior side.
Adiyiah was present for both Ghana’s silver-medal showing at the 2010 Cup of Nations and the World Cup some months later.
It was his shot that Luis Suarez palmed off the line in the last minute of that fateful quarter-final—who knows how different Adiyiah’s career could have been if that ball had crossed the line?
Instead of stardom, he has drifted into obscurity.
In the blink of an eye, the majesty of Milan became the anonymity of Arsenal Kyiv.
He is currently without a club and may be losing the faith of Ghana boss James Kwesi Appiah. Despite starting a match as recently as August, the forward was overlooked for the recent friendly against Montenegro.
Those of us who keep an eye on African and/or French football were once very excited about Ryad Boudebouz. He was a young winger with the speed and agility to thrive out wide who possessed the intelligence and technique to suggest that one day he could be a playmaker in the mould of some of North Africa’s greatest players of yesteryear.
As with so many of the current Desert Foxes’ squad, he began his international career with the France youth teams before switching to the land of his parents for senior level.
The French were sad to see him go but probably aren’t so bothered anymore.
Boudebouz stagnated at Sochaux, and his fortunes haven’t improved too much on Corsica with Bastia. There are the odd glorious occasions, such as man-of-the-match performances against Lorient, Ajaccio and Guingamp, but they haven’t been enough to convince Halilhodzic to recall him to the national side.
Boudebouz was one of the great casualties of the dismal 2013 Cup of Nations campaign—it is a failure that may prove fatal for his international career.
It’s been a case of “out of Sight, out of Mind” for Ghana centre-back Isaac Vorsah.
The defender tore his anterior cruciate ligament in May, and despite returning to training ahead of doctors’ original forecasts, he has yet to return to the international fold.
The defender has the experience of playing at the 2010 edition of the tournament and started all but one of the Black Stars’ matches at the 2013 Cup of Nations.
Since that tournament, however, the likes of Jonathan Mensah, Jerry Akaminko and John Boye have profited from Vorsah’s spell on the sidelines. All are currently ahead of the Red Bull Salzburg man in the national team pecking order.
Perhaps the best Vorsah can realistically hope for is to displace Rashid Sumaila to sneak into the squad as the fourth centre-back.