2014 World Cup: Which African side will fare best in Brazil this summer?
The 2010 World Cup was most certainly Africa’s World Cup. An African team progressed further in the tournament than ever before with Ghana a crossbar’s width away from a semi-final place. In similarly hot and muggy conditions in South America, which African side will fare best in Brazil this summer?
The perpetual bridesmaid of African football. Their golden generation of Dider Drogba, Tourés Yaya and Kolo, Didier Zokora, and others appeared to have finally fulfilled its potential when they came up against Zambia in the 2012 African Cup of Nations final. Penalties cruelly denied them then, and while a trophy is not a realistic goal in Brazil, an element of redemption may well be.
Wilfried Bony, not Chelsea legend Drogba who is the Ivory Coast’s all-time top goalscorer, may lead the line in their opener against Japan: the first of three opponents in as kind a group as Les Elephants may have asked for. However, even topping Group C will see them play the runner-up in England’s group, meaning that advancing beyond the second round may be too big an ask given England or Italy for opposition. However, they still represent the most realistic chance of an African semi-finalist.
Looking at the Algerian squad, there is not much to suggest that they can make an impact in Brazil. Their captain, ex-Rangers player Majid Bougherra, was until very recently without a club, they have never made it out of a World Cup group, and they have been drawn with Belgium, Russia, and South Korea. Their main goal scoring hope will come in the form of Sporting Lisbon’s Islam Slimani, who has 10 goals in 19 appearances for his country. Any positive results in their group will be regarded as a success.
Repeating their remarkable run to the quarter-finals in 2010 looked unlikely for Ghana from the moment their name was drawn alongside the USA, Germany, and Portugal. Michael Essien wasn’t part of the squad in 2010, but will be the lynchpin of the Ghanaian midfield who will attempt to stifle some of the best in the world.
They are not without attacking force either, as their 6-1 thrashing of Egypt in the first leg of their qualifying play-off demonstrated, and the sheer speed of 22-year-old Majeed Waris will worry every centre-back in Group G.
Should they sneak out of their group, they will likely play either Russia or Belgium; you hate to say that anything can happen in knock-out football, but of all the second round match-ups, theirs looks the most winnable.
Cameroon have the dubious honour of Brazil being in their group; with the winner’s spot pretty much reserved for the home nation, they will have to beat either Mexico or Croatia to get through to the second round.
Mexico lost their first game in nine against Bosnia in a pre-tournament friendly, but have otherwise looked strong, and Croatia will be a stiff challenge. Samuel Eto’o will need to rediscover his best form if they are to earn a second round place against either Spain or Netherlands, where any challenge will certainly end.
Nigeria have perhaps the toughest group draw of any of the African sides; their first game against Iran is the easiest of the three, as Bosnia and Argentina are their other opponents. Having said that, their squad shows much promise.
Victor Moses’s loan spell at Liverpool, at least in the early part of the season, reminded us of his potential, and Vincent Enyeama is arguably the continent’s finest goalkeeper, as he proved once again with a fine performance in a 0-0 draw with Greece in Philadelphia. Should Nigeria somehow escape their group, they will meet the winner of France’s group, which will give them a decent chance of beating their best ever World Cup performance, a last-16 place at France 98.