The draw for the FIFA 2010 World Cup has now taken place, and the 6 representatives from the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF) region know their fate, and the prognosis is not entirely good, but there is hope.
Group A: South Africa
Hosts South Africa who will be in their third World Cup, and they have been granted a fortunate draw. They will face the 1998 winners France, 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup winners Mexico and 1930 and 1950 champions Uruguay. This group has a lot of African influences in it, Uruguay was the first country to advocate the use of afro-descendants when the rest of South America only used white players. Players such as José Andrade and Isabelino Gradin in the 1920′s laid the foundation and gave the inspiration for players like Pelé and Didi in Brazil to see it was possible for a black player to excel at football. Uruguay won two World Cups with many influential black players such as the 1950 captain Obdulio Varela, so they were way ahead of their time.
France have also been at the forefront of advocating players of African descent, and many of their best players have been of African heritage. Jean-Pierre Adams who was born in Senegal formed with Marius Trésor the ‘guard noir’ (The Black Guard), an impenetrable defensive duo in the 1970′s, one of France’s leading protagonists in their 1984 Euro Championship was Mali born Jean Tigana. However the African influence was most felt in the 1998 World Cup and 2000 Euro Championship side that had legendary three time Fifa World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane who had Algerian heritage, Ghanian born defender Marcel Desailly, and Senegalese born Patrick Vieira. It is therefore fitting that both these teams are present at the first World Cup on African soil.
South Africa have a Brazilian coach in the very experienced Carlos Alberto Parreira, who will be having his sixth shot at the World Cup, having won it already in 1994 and been on the coaching staff in the 1970 victory, both for Brazil. He has his work cut out, South Africa have a small pool of talent, especially strikers, so to try mask this, he will use the time from February-May to physically prepare his team for the challenge, as the domestic Premier Soccer League finishes then. He will have to target the games against Uruguay and Mexico to get at least 4 points to qualify for the next stage.
Group B: Nigeria
Nigeria will be in their fourth World Cup, having missed out on the 2006 edition. Completing this group will be 1978 and 1986 winners Argentina coached by the 1986 winning captain Diego Maradona, 2002 semi finalists South Korea and 2004 European champions Greece. Again, there is an African link in this group, and not entirely footballing wise. Argentina and Nigeria share some similar history, Argentina had a brutal military dictatorship that under Jorge Rafael Videla conducted the ‘Dirty War‘ where civilians and dissidents were abducted and executed during the 1970′s-early 1980′s. Similarly, Nigeria has had many military dictatorships,especially during the 1980′s under Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida where there was repression and human rights abuses. Not withstanding, Argentina was the birth place of Che Guevara, who spent some time in the Congo during 1965 with former president, Laurent-Désiré Kabila.
Footballing wise, Nigeria will have their work cut out. They needed a last gasp goal to qualify, and they have yet to settle on a set style of play, and there are rumours that Italian trainer Roberto Mancini may take over in February, which causes lack of stability. Nigeria will have an old score to settle with Argentina having lost out to Argentina in the 2005 U-20 World Cup that saw the emergence of Lionel Messi and losing finalist Mikel-Jon Obi of Chelsea. They also lost out in the 2008 Olympics Final, so this could be a game they will look to get some revenge.
Group C: Algeria
Algeria will be making their third appearance at the World Cup, the first time since 1986. Making up the group is the United States of America, 1966 champions England and second time qualified Slovenia. Algeria have had some impact at the World Cup, in 1982 beating the then European champions Germany and were looking certain for the next stage, only for Germany and Austria to ‘fix’ their result that ensured Austria emerged with Germany and sent Algeria crashing out. This time round, they have made it through many controversies, trainer Rabah Saadane bursting into tears before their home clash with Egypt under pressure from local fans. They then had to endure a play off with Egypt in Sudan, with their players being pelted with stones as they arrived in Cairo, and their fans clashing with Egyptians in Khartoum, and this set off an international incident.
It will be a big ask for them to come out this group, the USA are physically good and have a lot of stamina, and England have a classy trainer in Fabio Cappelo who will try win the title for England.
Group D: Ghana
Ghana will be in their second successive World Cup, and they have been lucky enough to be grouped with three time champions Germany, Serbia and Australia. Ghana has some links with members of this group, around 70 000 Ghanians fought the Axis Powers in the Royal West African Frontier Force in Somalia against Germany’s main ally Italy, as well as fighting on the same side as Allied Power Australia.
Ghana have one of the most talented squads in Africa with players in the top teams of European teams such as Michael Essien at Chelsea, Sulley Muntari of Internazionale and John Mensah of Lyon on loan at Sunderland. They qualified in powerful fashion and were the first African team to qualify for the World Cup. However they are still searching for a striker that befits the quality they have in defence and midfield. There are hopes that Andre Ayew or Dominic Adiyiah will fill that role as both were prolific in the 2009 Fifa U-20 World Cup that Ghana won.
Group E: Cameroon
The Indomitable Lions will be making their sixth appearance at the tournament, and their group will be comprised of 1974 and 1978 runners up Holland, 2002 hosts Japan and 1992 European champions Denmark. There aren’t many links to Cameroon in this group, but Cameroon have played probably the most important role in Sub-Saharan football. The 1990 team was the first Sub-Saharan team to reach the Quarter Finals, where in extra time, they were eliminated by England. The impact of striker Roger Milla who scored four goals and the impact of midfielder Francois Omam-Biyik and goalkeeper Thomas Nkono (who became an idol of the current Italy goalkeeper Gigi Buffon who many regard as the best in the world) stretched far and wide, and the emergence of Nigeria in 1994 and 1998, then Senegal in 2002 can be traced back to seeing a Sub-Saharan team show what was possible if teams worked hard.
This group is a favourable draw for Cameroon, they did have problems in qualification, but with new French trainer Paul Le Guen, they won their last 3 games to seal a place. Much will rely on Internazionale’s striker, Samuel Eto’o who has decided European Cup Finals with his fine attacking skills.
Group G: Côte d’Ivoire
Making their second appearance at the tournament, Côte d’Ivoire have yet again been given a group that will test their talented squad of players. Five time champions Brazil, 2006 semi finalists Portugal and 1966 quarter finalists North Korea. The clear African influence here is Brazil, a country that has descendants of enslaved Africans, and since 1958, those descendants have played a big role in the five victories in the World Cup. Leônidas da Silva was the pioneer in Brazil for black players being allowed to play, having himself spent 1933 in Uruguay where black players where welcomed more than in his native Brazil, especially after players like Arthur Friedenreich who was half African, half German was banned from representing Brazil in the 1921 Copa America as his skin was a ‘disgrace’ to the nation. He was dubbed ‘The Black Diamond’ and invented the bicycle kick. He laid the foundation for a 17 year old by the name of Pelé in 1958 who inspired his country to the win that year, a player who would go on to score a record 92 goals for Brazil and become immortalized as a legend of the game. Other black players who have made an impact are Didi in 1958, 1962 saw the sidekick of Pelé, the rubber man Garrincha who is regarded as the best showman ever with his dazzling dribbles. Brazil has not only had black players, but deeply entrenched coaching cooperation, current coach of South Africa Carlos Alberto Parreira was coaching in Ghana in the 1960′s and many others have coached in Africa.
Portugal also have a strong African link, as a former colonial master in Africa, many of their best players have come from their colonies. Legendary striker Eusébio nicknamed ‘The Black Pearl’ was born in Maputo Mozambique, he changed the face of Portuguese football, claiming the European Cup twice with Benfica and dragging Portugal to third place in the 1966 World Cup and being top scorer with 9 goals. He was the blueprint for the modern striker today, marrying immense power with applied technique and will to win. Mário Coluna nicknamed ‘The Sacred Monster’ was also born in Mozambique and captained the Portuguese 1966 team, and was known for his elegance and tenacity on the ball. Current Portugal trainer, Carlos Queiroz was also born in Mozambique and was the tactical mastermind behind Manchester United League and European Champions League win in 2008, whilst his first choice right back José Bosingwa was born in the D.R.C.
Côte d’Ivoire face a very tough ask to emerge from this group. Just as in 2006 where they were also in a group of death with Argentina-Holland-Serbia, they could be eliminated by the time they play their last game against North Korea. In their ranks however, they have players who are used to playing in big matches, Didier Drogba of Chelsea is often mentioned as one of the elite strikers in the game, Barcelona’s Yaya Touré is the man who Barcelona depend on to reclaim and retain the ball, his brother Kolo Touré is currently captain of mega-rich Manchester City after a glittering 7 year career at Arsenal such as going a whole league campaign unbeaten in 2004. these are the players who must carry Côte d’Ivoire against these heavyweights, and for most of these players, this may be the last shot at the World Cup.