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World Cup draw: The African Challenge

Source: Christopher Opoku/footy-ghana.com

When the FIFA World Cup draw was finally done on Friday, it threw up some very interesting Groups. For obvious reasons, Ghanaians are concerned after the Black Stars landed in the same group with Germany, Portugal and the United States.

With time we would look at the specific threat each country will pose to Ghana in greater detail, but this piece will assess the chances of the African teams as a whole going into next year’s World Cup In Brazil.

Group A: Brazil, Cameroon, Mexico, Croatia

In my view, the biggest impediment to the progress of the Indomitable Lions is themselves. Over the years, Cameroon’s performances on the pitch have suffered, not because of a lack of ability, but because of divisions in the team and way sometimes the payment of appearance bonuses are handled by the country’s football governing body, FECAFOOT.

If Volker Finke can get the players united and focused towards the same goal, Cameroon could make it past the first round for the first time since 1990. Team captain Samuel Eto’o is hugely experienced but the fear is that he may be past his best.

Nevertherless, the four time African Player of the year is still big enough to draw away defenders from team-mates like Achille Webo and Eric Choupo Moting amongst others. The experience of the likes of Sebastian Bassong, Nicolas N’Koulou and Benoit Assou Ekotto at the back, coupled with the likes of Stephane M’bia amd Jean Makoun in midfield makes the Indomitable Lions a formidable team and the fixture list also favours Cameroon.

Crucially the first two games are against Mexico and Croatia and if Finke ensures that he has a watertight defence, which has been the bane of Cameroon in recent times, it is possible to see Cameroon amassing a minimum of four points before facing Brazil, by which time confidence levels would have risen. So Cameroon needs to avoid divisions and fights over bonuses and that could pave the way for a good cup run.

Group C: Colombia, Cote D’Ivoire, Japan, Greece

Many Ivorians would say that this is a good draw compared to the last two World Cup tournaments, when the Elephants had very tough groups. Indeed, this represents the last chance for the Didier Drogba-led golden generation to shine on the World stage.

Despite losing to Nigeria in the 2013 African Nations Cup in South Africa, Sabri Lamouchi was retained as the team’s head coach and the Tunisian-born Frenchman responded by qualifying the Elephants for Brazil. One criticism of the Ivorians is an inability to utilize the killer instinct from a position of strength, as evidenced in the 2012 African Nations Cup final against Zambia.

For me, the Elephants have as good a chance as any of making it out of the Group for the first time and it makes Cote D’Ivoire’s opener against Japan a crucial one. Should the Elephants win that game, that could help them along especially with the Radamel Falcao-led Colombia to come in the second Group game.

The Elephants, with BBC African Player of the year, Yaya Toure, Wilfred Bony, Drogba himself, Salomon Kalou and a reborn Gervinho, could very well go on an extended run in Brazil. A lot will also depend on Lamouchi getting continued support from the Ivorian Football Federation.

Group F: Argentina, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran

This will be the fourth time the Super Eagles would have met Argentina at the Group stages of the World Cup, with Nigeria losing the previous three encounters. Head coach Stephen Keshi has gotten the best out of an ever improving team against all odds and he has built on the team that won the African Nations Cup earlier this year.

With the introduction of Newcastle United target man Shola Ameobi and the return from injury of Emmanuel Emenike, coupled with the craft of Victor Moses and the guile of John Obi Mikel, Nigeria looks to have a settled outfit.

Liile goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is arguably the best goalkeeper on the African continent and so Nigeria does possess a shock value.

Again, with the first game against Iran, a victory is absolutely essential for the Super Eagles to have any chance of progressing from the Group stages. Bosnia and Herzegovina will be a difficult test, but if the Super Eagles can amass 4 points from the two fixtures going into the last game against Argentina, then Nigeria has a real chance of making it into the knock out phase for the first time since 1998.

Keshi has been a major factor in Nigeria’s recent success and so it is imperative that the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), which has not always seen eye-to-eye with Keshi, gives him full support. Any attempt to replace him with an expatriate will destroy Nigeria’s chances.

Group G: Germany, Ghana, United States, Portugal

This is the toughest group involving an African nation and one of the toughest groups in the competition full stop. The Black Stars team is regarded by pundits worldwide as Africa’s best hope of progressing at the World Cup and perhaps it is fitting that Ghana finds herself in such a difficult group.

For me the opening game against the United States will be the most difficult match for the Black Stars for a number of reasons. Ghana has beaten the United States at the last two World Cup tournaments and they would have become older and wiser for the experience.

Again, Jurgen Klinsmann, who took Germany to third place in 2006 is now in charge and so there will be a mixture of German efficiency and American endeavor from the United States.

Ghana will have to sort out its back five by the time the World Cup arrives in order to have any chance of progressing.

If that is done, Kwesi Appiah is given the necessary support to continue working as the team’s head coach and the Black Stars get a victory against the States, Ghana could get the needed results against Germany and Portugal to progress.

Indeed, the Black Stars could get a minimum of five points and a maximum of seven points to qualify.

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, South Korea, Russia

For me, Algeria is Africa’s weakest team going into the World Cup and head coach Vahid Halilhodzic has a lot of work to do in getting the best out of the Desert Foxes. Algeria failed to score in South Africa and so Halilhodzic will have his work cut out in ensuring that his side has the needed cutting edge to trouble the likes of Belgium and Russia.

The problem is that Belgium has the best collection of top players for the first time since 1986 and in Mexico that year, the Belgians went all the way to the semifinals before being undone by two superb Diego Maradona strikes.

Russia also looks a far more organized outfit under Fabio Capello and for me, Algeria has a very very slim chance of making it into the knock out phase.

All in all, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil could see more than one African team making the second round for the first time ever. Of course, stability and effective preparation is key and it is about time an African team made it into the last four.

The good thing is all the five African nations represented the continent in South Africa last time out and so they would go to Brazil with more experience.

The African Challenge should be interesting to watch and the events of the coming months should shape up what could be a wonderful story going into the World Cup.

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