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Likelihood of an African World Cup 2010 Winner (Part 1/2)

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One day before the much anticipated and awaited World Cup 2010, the very first World Cup held in Africa. Just like People’s Republic of China in 2008 Olympic games, this is the time for South Africa, a country that had a bleak reputation for its notorious Apartheid era, to show to the world just how they have gone from such a bleak era to rapid, harmonious, and stable growth. Same goes to the African continent in general, this is the event to show the world that Africa is on par with the rest of the world. The greatest footballer but not so great predictor Pele had predicted before the turn of the century that the world will be seeing an African Champion right after the aforementioned turn of the century, which is 2002 World Cup. But, a decade into the 21st century, we have yet to see a World champion hailing from a continent other than Europe and South America. Since this World Cup is one which is finally staged in Africa, we might well see the first African team to win the arguably pinnacle of International football. Six African teams, dubbed the “Six-Pack” by pundits all over the world will be vying to be the first nation to win the World Cup as well as to become the first African country(s) to surpass Cameroon’s record in 1990 to go beyond the quarter-finals. These teams are (in no particular order for now) Algeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, hosts South Africa, and last but not least Nigeria. These countries have gone a long way in football and a look at their squad would reveal names of players who are so familiar to all of us football fans such as Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Carlos Kameni, and many more. It seems that everything has been set in stone for an African country to win the World Cup on African soil. It would be even more romantic than Mourinho’s Champions League triumph in his new club’s stadium. Assuming that an African country is poised to win the World Cup, which of the six countries are the likeliest to win the competition? It would be analyzed below from the least likely team to win it to the most likely African team to win it.

The first African team, and the one least likely to win the World Cup is Algeria. Starting from the household names, Algeria have the least number of household names in comparison to the other countries. The biggest names in this Algerian squad are Karim Ziani of Wolfsburg and Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda of Portsmouth (the latter on loan from Benfica). That’s not to say that players’ reputation alone will be the sole factor of a team’s success in the World Cup, but on paper, that’s the case. While there’s no denying that Algeria has done a lot to reach South Africa judging from their amazing qualification campaign in which they had exhausted all tie-breakers in the group with Egypt to determine who qualifies to the World Cup and thus had to play Egypt one more time in a neutral venue (later determined to be Sudan). That was the last thing that both countries want as they had fought cataclysmic battles in the two matches against each other and also marred with extreme crowd troubles. The last match was won by Algeria, again in a very controversial and marred with crowd troubles, although the Egyptians would get their revenge in the African Nations Cup 2010 in Angola when they beat the Algerians 4-0 en route to their triumph in Angola. In any case, Algeria will be in the World Cup, and their group will not be easy. They have been drawn with England, USA, and Slovenia. This group is expected to be a foregone conclusion as England and USA are massive favorites to clinch the 1st and 2nd place respectively to progress to the last 16. Rabah Saadane will have to utilize his tactical prowess and vast footballing experience in order to spring an upset and knock one of the favorites (England or USA) and progress to the next round to go on to win the whole thing. Although they might well go through if they are able to clinch a victory against Slovenia in their opening match and at least grab 1 point from their subsequent encounters with USA and England. Even that is already unlikely, and even if they manage to do the impossible and go through to the last 16, they might well be knocked out against the likes of Germany or Australia or Serbia. Thus, although anything can happen in football, it would be a task too tall to go beyond the quarter finals, let alone winning the World Cup. Well, unless Pele suddenly publicly predicts that Algeria will be the whipping boys of Group C, and they might well win the World Cup!!! (Curse of Pele, infamous and well documented football “curse”)

The second least likely team to win the World Cup is none other than Nigeria. But they have a much bigger chance than Algeria to do so, that’s for sure. Their hopes will hinge on players such as Obafemi Martins, Peter Odemwingie, Aiyegbeni Yakubu, and the aging but the ever reliable Kanu. The Super Eagles have not been soaring in world football of late. Missing the last edition of World Cup with frequent changes in management and various other problems such as difficulties in unearthing new Nigerian superstars. Although the Super Eagles might have been experiencing a renaissance of late, clinching the third place in the African Nations Cup 2010, the frequent management changes still go on as the previous manager Shaibu Amodu was sacked despite the third place finish and the Swede Lars Lagerback was appointed in February. Despite having quite a solid squad with a few eyebrow raising names in the squad, the fact that they don’t have that “X-Factor” especially in the form of a new prodigy entering the scene as well as an established megastar in the squad, and also compounded by the fact that the manager only has 3 full months before the tournament proper to get to know all the players in the squad as well as trying to acclimatize himself to them, and also imparting his footballing philosophies to his players. There are too many problems in the Nigerian squad for them to win this World Cup. Although Group B is quite an open group with the seemingly erratic Argentina (although I beg to differ), South Korea and Greece. In any case, it is going to be hard with their key player John Obi Mikel injured. In my opinion, it is an open battle for South Korea, Greece, and Nigeria to fight it out to join Argentina to go through to the next round. However, despite what I said earlier about how Nigeria have a bigger chance than Algeria to win this one, but that’s purely based on logic and paper analysis. Also, even if they are really more likely to triumph, it would still be too much for them to even match Cameroon 1990’s progress to the quarter-finals, let alone winning the World Cup, just like how I concluded for Algeria previously.

Next is Ivory Coast, an African team I would consider to be the England of Africa. Star-studded: check. Overrated: check, Perennial favorites: check, wilting when everyone expects them to shine: check, Sven Goran Eriksson: CHECK! That’s Ivory Coast for you. Don’t get me started to list the big names that they have, before I could even mash my keyboards, I am already so starstruck that I am stunned! Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Yaya Toure, Aruna Dindane, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, the list goes on and on and on! Ask any ordinary fans out there about the title of this article, and I believe every single one of them would point out that Ivory Coast is by far the most likely African team to triumph, and they might even suggest that Ivory Coast will certainly win the World Cup 2010! However, from history, their patterns in the past tournament which prompted me to place the “England of Africa” tag on them Ivory Coast will fall short of expectations. If you expect them to win the World Cup, they would fall in the quarter finals, if you expect them to go through comfortably to the last 16, they would be humiliated in the Group Stage. In terms of firepower and star names, Ivory Coast have everything. Just like their nickname, they are like a giant indomitable elephant that will steamroll over anything and everything. But just like the real elephant which loses to small ants, Ivory Coast is also prone to be shocked by teams that they expect to beat comfortably (North Korea for this case). Also, if Lars Lagerback has 3 months before the start of the World Cup, his fellow Swede Sven Goran Eriksson only has less than 2 months to get used to the Ivory Coast squad and for the squad to get used to him and his style. This will certainly further impede the country’s chances of finally living up to their expectations and sheer star-studdedness and firepower. One more thing which would impede them is the fact that just like in World Cup 2006, they are once again drawn in the competition’s Group of Death with massive favorites Brazil and Portugal (to go through to the next round at least) and the unknown quantity and potential surprise package North Korea. No matter what, it is really hard to see both Brazil and Portugal go through to the next round of the competition. If all of these are still not enough, Ivory Coast still have one more problem, one which many would argue the biggest problem of them all. Didier Drogba , the player expected to be the sole bastion of hope for Ivory Coast to succeed suffered a broken right elbow in the recent warm-up match against Japan. Although he is expected to recover on time and the worst is for him to miss their first match against Portugal, it is enough to kill Ivory Coast’s hopes of going through the group. Even if Drogba recovers on time, a player who has just recovered from an injury will not be at 100%, and it would be too much for Drogba, or any player for that matter to carry the weight of a nation on his own. Besides, totally depending on a 32 year old who might be featuring in his last ever World Cup in his career, superstar he might be, to bring the country to World Cup glory is not a good sign. Just like Nigeria and Algeria especially, they would do well to survive the Group Stage, and they are not somewhere in the first two paragraphs only because of the fact that they are in the Group of Death. Too bad Ivory Coast…

Next is Ghana. The Black Stars have enjoyed a meteoric rise to the footballing elites mainly due to their strong exploits in World Cup 2006 and also strong European contingent such as Sulley Ali Muntari, Stephan Appiah, and Michael Essien. Also, their under-20 team (the Black Satellites) have recently just clinched the World Under-20 title. Signs of big things to come for the West African nation? Not so easy. Their players’ reputation cannot be undoubted. I would say they are even close to on par with Ivory Coast. But, just like Ivory Coast and Nigeria, Ghana is also feeling the brunt of the “Chelsea World Cup curse” as just like Ivory Coast, Ghana will not be with the player who is carrying the nation’s weight on his own, Michael Essien. It is even worse as unlike Ivory Coast, Essien will be missing the whole tournament. Also, just like Ivory Coast, they are in a difficult group with Germany, Australia, and Serbia. This group is as open as it could be, in which in my opinion, any permutations and combinations of those teams can pan out at the end of the three match-days of the group. However, I would say that as much as they are likely to go far in the tournament, Ghana is also likely to fall short in the Group Stage. Why? The main reason is that although many people are still under the illusion of the fluid and great looking Ghana team in 2006, we have to accept that in four years time between two World Cups anything could happen and so much at that. One example would be that Adriano was tipped to be the next best player in the world in 2006, and now Adriano is considered a wasted player trying to rescue his fledgling and shaky career. Just like that, and thus, this Ghana team is now in a transition period between the old guards of 2006 and the new guards mostly consisting of the players featured in the under-20 triumph. Transition periods are never fun, again just ask Arsene Wenger, and thus Ghana is no exception. A glance at the current Ghana squad reveals a seemingly eclectic combination of the old guards and the new boys. However, in the actual fact, the transition from old to new is not that smooth, as there’s a gaping gap between the group of old guards and the new boys. The former is a group of aging players with alarming dip in form, especially Stephan Appiah, and even the usually reliable keeper Richard Kingson has been labelled “shaky” in recent times. On the other hand, the new boys from the under-20 team who have just been promoted to the senior squad are too raw and inexperienced to feature at this level. I mean, winning a youth tournament is one thing, but winning a proper senior tournament is another thing altogether. Besides, it is too early to judge the potential of the players as there have been so many players all over the world who have starred in the youth championships, but failed to make the next step to superstardom and they settle to become average and mediocre players instead. Even if they do have the potential to become world beaters, their current ability at this stage will not enable them to excel at the senior level, not so soon. One notable example would be Real Madrid’s Royston Drenthe. Thus, this team would need another 4 years at least to get over the transition period properly, then if the players from the under-20 triumphant squad really fulfill their potentials, then Ghana can dream of winning the World Cup in Brazil, but definitely not this year. Just like Ivory Coast, even going through the Group Stage is not a shoe-in. Thus, even Ghana, as one of the favorites are not really favorites and I would not be surprised if they are knocked out early despite all the hype.

Written by cp

10/06/2010 at 22:10

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