Although Burkina Faso may have something to say about the alleged fielding of an ineligible player, as it stands, the same five countries who qualified from CAF for the 2010 World Cup have qualified for Brazil next summer. Quite a rare occurrence, particularly in recent World Cup campaigns, with it being a very long and drawn out qualification process, with two phases which result in five two-legged play-off matches, where the winner books their place in the finals. Here is a look at the prospects for each of the five nations in Brazil:
The most northerly African nation to qualify made it through the tightest of the five play-off matches. They and Burkina Faso were quite evenly matched over the two games, and Algeria belied their performance in South Africa 2010 by being quite an entertaining side to watch as the tie swung back and forth. They may still be sweating a little over the outcome of their opponents’ appeal, but how will they do in Brazil? It looks a very strong pool of teams which has qualified for this tournament and Algeria look set to struggle as they look one of the weakest teams out of the 32. Whilst entertaining to watch, the play-off against Burkina Faso was quite a low quality affair, and it would be a major shock and an incredible achievement if they were to emerge from their group. In 2010, they were one of the dullest teams to watch, failing to score a goal, but they will remember their goalless draw with England fondly, and it was only a goalkeeping error which saw them lose to Slovenia, and USA only found a way past them in the dying seconds, so they were a tough side to penetrate, but their goal threat was non-existent. Algeria look set to exit at the group stage.
Reaching their seventh World Cup after failing to even qualify for the last two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, Cameroon saved their best performance for when it mattered, the second leg of their play-off with Tunisia. They will still look to Samuel Eto’o to provide the finishing quality, but they have others, like Barcelona’s Alexandre Song, and Benjamin Moukandjo, who scored a fine individual goal against Tunisia. Also among their ranks are skilful left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, on loan to Queens Park Rangers from Tottenham, and Aston Villa outcast Jean II Makoun. They will still do well to reach the knockout stages, but they should do much better than they did in South Africa, where they were a massive disappointment, losing all of their three group fixtures against Japan, Denmark and the Netherlands for their worst ever World Cup campaign. Definitely not as good as the team of 1990, but talented, and they could reach the second round, but anything beyond that looks a tough ask.
The team comprising Andre Ayew and Kevin Prince-Boateng among others qualified for the World Cup in style eventually after struggling somewhat in their group, hammering Egypt 6-1 in Accra, rendering the second leg – which they lost 2-1 as a virtual dead rubber. They have reached the World Cup for the third time in succession, and are undoubtedly one of the best sides in Africa and one which looks capable of reaching the latter stages once again, as they have in their two previous finals appearances. In 2006, they stunned the Czech Republic to reach the knockout stages, where they ran into Ronaldo and Brazil. In 2010 they went one better, edging through their group somewhat unconvincingly,. but then deservedly beating the USA and coming so close to reaching the semi-finals by defeating Uruguay. Of course, Luis Suarez was partly responsible for their failure to do so, but Asamoah Gyan memorably passed up the chance that was given to him. They are certainly able to get out of their group, but whether they reach the quarter-finals depends on their draw.
Will this be the World Cup where Ivory Coast finally fulfil their potential? They competed well against the giants of Brazil and Portugal in the last World Cup, only going out on goal difference due to scoring less against whipping boys North Korea than Portugal managed. In 2006, they had Argentina and the Netherlands to contend with, and they also competed well against those two teams, only losing 2-1 on both occasions before a thrilling 3-2 win over Serbia and Montenegro. This time, they will of course be hoping for a slightly kinder draw, because they definitely have the players to make an impact upon the knockout stages. The Elephants made it through after a tense play-off victory over 2002 quarter-finalists Senegal, who were just one goal away from winning the tie on away goals. In the end, qualification was deserved, and Didier Drogba, despite his advancing years, will again be a key player, along with Yaya Youre, whose influence on the Ivory Coast team is sadly less than that for Manchester City.
The Super Eagles look the best side in Africa at the moment, which represents a terrific recovery after the turmoil that followed the 2010 World Cup, where their FIFA membership was under threat due to political intervention from the wonderfully named Goodluck Jonathan. The last World Cup was not much to be pleased with, as they shot themselves in the foot against Greece and then saw Yakubu miss an absolute sitter against South Korea, who took second place behind Argentina in Group B. They are now champions of Africa, having won the Nations Cup in February with victory over Burkina Faso in the final, and were always quite comfortable in their play-off against Ethiopia though helped by two penalties over the two legs. Despite looking the best side in Africa going into the tournament, however, Ivory Coast and Ghana possess more star players and look Africa’s best bet to go a long way into the 2014 World Cup.
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