Will Africa’s Big Five Roar?
Harare –It’s a swansong for Cote d’Ivoire’s Golden Generation, a chance for the Black Stars to make up for the heartbreak of South Africa and the Big Boss, Stephen Keshi, returns to the other side of the Atlantic hoping his unpredictable Super Eagles could be the toast of Africa in Brazil.
It’s certainly the last World Cup for Samuel Eto’o, one of the greatest Indomitable Lions of all-time, unless he decides to be the Roger Milla of the new millennium and prolongs his international career by another four years to play in Russia 2018 at the ripe age of 37.
The Algerians find themselves buoyed by a surprise pre-tournament present from FIFA, which ranked them as the number one football nation in Africa on the eve of the 2014 World Cup finals, and the Desert Foxes plunge into battle in Brazil with a good chance of making the second round.
Africa’s Big Five begin yet another quest to try and win the FIFA World Cup, something which has proved Mission Impossible for generations of the finest footballers that the continent has sent to battle, and experts believe success isn’t on the corner.
Although Ghana came close to booking a semi-final place, four years ago in South Africa, which would have been the first time an African team has played in the last four of the World Cup, experts believe the unforgiving Americas, where only teams from South America have been champions, aren’t the playground to provide the continent with its first title.
The Black Stars are back at the World Cup and, to many Africans, carry the best hopes for the continent after they completed their qualifying campaign without suffering a defeat and impressed, in the final qualifier, with a comprehensive destruction of serial African champions Egypt to book their ticket to Brazil.
But the Ghanaians are in the so-called Group of Death in which they have a tough assignment, just to make the second round, as they face the United States, the team they defeated after extra-time in the second round in South Africa, and European powerhouses Germany and Portugal.
Each of the teams in Group G reached the second round at the 2010 World Cup, which shows the quality of the group, and Ghana faced the Germans in their group in South Africa and while the Black Stars went all the way to the quarter-finals, only to run into Luis Suarez and his ‘Hand of God’, Germany went as far as the semi-finals where they lost to eventual champions Spain.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to be at the World Cup, and the tough group just makes it more exciting to play in the tournament,” Ghanaian midfielder Andre Ayew, whose brother Jordan is also in the Black Stars team, told the official FIFA website.
“We are not favourites in the group, but when we come out of it, we will make Ghanaians happy. We have the quality and the mentality.
“What matters most is for all to be fit. All the teams are tough and we cannot underestimate any of them. Everyone says we are going to beat the USA. We beat them in 2006 and 2010 and you can be sure that for that reason, they will want to avenge those defeats now, and that makes it dicey.”
Ghana get their 2014 World Cup show underway with a date against the United States on Monday and then face Germany, in a blockbuster tie, in Fortaleza on June 21 before completing their group games with a date against Portugal, who are likely to have Cristiano Ronaldo firing on all cylinders after his injury scare, on June 26 at the National Stadium in Brasilia.
“It’s a good feeling to be in the Ghana team with my brother because I haven’t played a big tournament like the World Cup before,” the 22-year-old Jordan told Fifa.com.
“In 2010, I watched him at home. Now I am here with him in the same team.”
Nigeria arrived in Brazil as the African champions and the last time they played at the World Cup, carrying the tag of African champions, was 20 years when a group of Super Eagles, under the guidance of Dutch coach Clemens Westerhof, held the globe spellbound by making it into the second round of the tournament in the United States.
Keshi, who is now the coach, was the skipper of that team while his assistant, Daniel Amokachi, led the line of a side that was pregnant with quality from the likes of Sunday Oliseh, Jay Jay Okocha, Finidi George and the late gangly forward Rashid Yekini.
The Super Eagles are in a tough group in which they will play Iran in Curitiba on Monday, Bosnia and Herzegovina in Cuiaba on June 21 and complete their Group F assignments against one of the 2014 World Cup favourites Argentina on June 25 in Port Alegre.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are playing at their first World Cup while the Super Eagles showdown against Argentina presents the latest of high-profile battles the two sides have featured in since Lionel Messi and John Obi Mikel clashed in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup final in the Netherlands in 2005.
Argentina won that battle and Messi was on his way to superstardom at Barcelona while Mikel, who was one of the star players of that FIFA Under-20 World Cup tournament, went to find fame as a gritty midfielder at English glamour club Chelsea.
Argentina and Nigeria clashed in the final of the football tournament of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, which the South Americans won, and they met in the group stages of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with Argentina winning yet again.
The 2014 World Cup provides the Golden Generation of the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, led by Didier Drogba, with one last chance of making a big impression, or even winning silverware, and in a Group C where they will face Japan, Greece and Colombia, they will feel they have a good chance to make the next round.
Cameroon have to find a way to either top the group or come second in Group A where their opponents include hosts and favourites Brazil, whom they face in Brasilia on June 23, Mexico and a talented Croatia side.
Algeria will open their World Cup campaign on Tuesday against a Belgian side neutrals believe will make a big impression in Brazil before they take on South Korea and Russia.
“Belgium, Algeria, Korea Republic, Russia, interesting but tricky because there is no hiding for us, next round a must,” Belgium’s defensive stalwart and Manchester City skipper, Vincent Kompany, tweeted.