Five matches that will decide Africa’s World Cup
KICK OFF looks at five matches that could decide Africa’s fortunes at the World Cup in Brazil next year.
Nigeria v. Bosnia-Herzegovina
If one of Africa’s sides is to breach the glass ceiling of the quarter-finals this summer, then Nigeria might be the continent’s best bet.
Algeria have the easy draw but lack the quality, while Ghana possess the quality but find themselves in the tournament’s Group of Death.
Nigeria, on the other hand, have both a squad brimming with talent and a group draw which makes progression a realistic proposition.
The Super Eagles could then potentially be looking forward to a second round tie with an unconvincing France side or Switzerland, the weakest of the eight seeds.
Neither of these possibilities will concern Stephen Keshi and his young Nigeria side, but the knock-out round will only become reality if the West Africans can escape the group.
To do that, they will surely need to beat Bosnia in Cuiaba in their second match. If the Super Eagles can follow victory over Iran with defeat of Bosnia, then they will have the wings to make the second round without needing to beat Argentina.
Failure to do this and something special will be needed against Messi and Co.
Possibly by the time Ghana and Portugal arrive at the group’s final game, on June 26 in Brasilia, they will each have taken points off the United States and have been defeated by Germany.
Thus, their final group game will prove to be a showdown between two sides both seeking that final qualifying spot alongside Joachim Low’s men.
Some may anticipate this one being a foregone conclusion, with Portugal able to both match Ghana’s force and outplay them along the ground.
Portugal, however, are not infallible and if Ghana can manage to infiltrate their defence, then the Black Stars could be on the road to repeat, or even improve upon, their terrific quarter-final showing of 2010.
The group stage draw left the Elephants pooled with Colombia, Greece and Japan. Considering that, in recent tournaments, they have been forced to face Brazil, Portugal, Argentina and the Netherlands, this represents a considerably easier summer.
The Ivorians open against Japan, which will not be a straight-forward contest, but I suspect that their second match, against group seeds Colombia, will be the pick of the bunch.
This fixture is arguably one of the biggest the Golden Generation have faced since they began to emerge into the international arena 13 years ago.
The 2014 World Cup represents the last chance these faded old veterans will have of leaving a legacy in world football. Beat Colombia in Brasilia and the collective may finally be on course to leave the tangible memory that their talent deserves.
Having watched Group A’s other two teams, Brazil and Croatia, open the tournament the day before, these two will know what is expected of them and the challenges that lie in store.
Bearing in mind that hosts Brazil will likely take one of Group A’s promotion spots, El Tri and the Indomitable Lions will know that any slip up could prove fatal.
Mexico are a fragile bunch at the moment. They endured a horrible qualifying campaign and have had five different managers since the last World Cup. Jose Manuel de la Torre was ousted in early September as the Mexican FA lost faith and three different bosses have sat in the hotseat since then.
Should Cameroon start well against the Central Americans, then La Verde are more than capable of losing their heads and their composure.
If Eto’o and Co. can join Brazil on three points after the first round of matches, then they have every chance of joining the Selecao in the Round of 16. Lose to Mexico, and Cameroon might repeat their trick of 2010, when they were the first team eliminated from the tournament.
Algeria v. Korea Republic
As mentioned above, Algeria may be considered the weakest of the African sides, but they have been drawn into a very encouraging World Cup pool.
While the Red Devils, with their massed talent including Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, ought to top the group in some style, the second qualification spot is well and truly up for grabs.
One can envisage a three-way dogfight between the other sides — it will be a struggle that Algeria have every chance of surviving.
The Fennecs’ opening game against the Belgians ought to be treated as a bonus fixture, after that, they will have two matches to save their World Cup.
The first, against South Korea on June 22, will be critical. If Algeria can outwork their traditionally industrious opponents, then they stand a chance of slipping into the knock-out stages. If they fail to perform against the East Asians, then they might be set for a second consecutive first round elimination.