World Cup: African Teams to Watch
Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the African teams to watch in this summer’s World Cup
CAMEROON: The Indomitable Lions
Coach: Paul Le Guen
Africa’s dominant team of the 1980s and early 2000s made a poor start to the second round of qualifications, picking up just one point in its first two matches. The Lions turned their fortunes around with successive victories over Gabon, which took them to the top of the table in September. During the team’s rough start, fans raised questions about its ageing backbone, which includes Rigobert Song and Geremi Njitap. To their credit, both played key roles in the revival in the later stages of group matches. While the Lions may not possess the depth of quality found in earlier teams, they have a world class player in Samuel Eto’o, whose several goals pushed the team to greater heights. After its achievements in 1990, when it became the first African side to reach the World Cup quarter-finals, Cameroon’s showings have been disappointing. In 2010, the Lions hope to use collective strength rather than individual brilliance to mount a successful challenge.
CÔTE D’IVOIRE: The Elephants
Coach: Vahid Halilhodžic??
Regarded as the best African football team despite its lack of silverware to back this claim, Côte d’Ivoire’s World Cup qualification was never in doubt from the moment the team travelled to Burkina Faso and came away with a 3-2 away win. They put their main group rivals away with an emphatic 5-0 win when the Stallions played the return leg. Malawi and Guinea were similarly overrun. The menacing Didier Drogba led from the front and the gifted Yaya Touré pulled the strings in midfield. The central defensive duo of Kolo Touré and Abdoulaye Méïté was unbreachable. On paper, Côte d’Ivoire possesses the qualities that could see it become the first African team to get to the semifinals, but it will need a level head to prevent a recurrence of the overconfidence that derailed its 2008 African Cup of Nations campaign.
GHANA: The Black Stars
??Coach: Milovan Rajevac
In September, the Black Stars became the first African team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when they won their second-round group stage qualification series with victories over Mali, Benin and Sudan. Key to their domination of the group was the striking duo of Matthew Amoah and Prince Tagoe. The latter adequately filled the boots of Junior Agogo, who lost his place on the team after a significant period of inactivity following his ill-fated move from Nottingham Forest to Egyptian club Zamalek. A dispute between Agogo and the club saw him sidelined for several months until his departure from Egypt and his arrival in Cyprus. Also critical to the team’s fortunes was the form of Michael Essien, who returned to the team after a significant absence from both club and country following injury. The team’s strength is its versatility in midfield, with the likes of Anthony Annan and Essien working tirelessly. The rest of the squad depends on the reliability at the back of captain John Mensah and experienced goalkeeper, Richard Kingson, who keep the Black Stars solid.