As the group stages draw to a close, it has been very much a mixed bag for the African nations; two good, two bad, one unlucky. It has seen the end of World Cup dreams for some of Africa’s finest players, most notably Eto’o and Drogba, with the Toure brothers unlikely to feature next time round. Cameroon were the first side out from Africa, and Eto’o bowed out in ignominious circumstances.
Cameroon, well they just haven’t turned up. That isn’t a huge surprise given their qualifying and shambolic build up – The Indomitable Lions?? Lions are proud, majestic creatures and the display of the side certainly wasn’t that. Most Malawians are happy to support all African nations in the World Cup, and judging by social media, so are many other African fans. However, when Cameroon qualified there were murmurs of disappointment as they, in a friend of mine’s words “make African football look a mess”. How right he was.
In fairness to them, Mexico have been quite impressive in the tournament – a far cry from the side that scraped through qualification using 4 different coaches. Exciting to watch and excellent displays from key individuals, most notably Ochoa in goal, who was recently relegated from the French top flight. Going back to Cameroon, the African record holders for World Cup appearances scraped through, in part due to the footballing giants of Cape Verde fielding an ineligible player which led to them being relieved of three points and allowing Tunisia, who came second in the group to advance to the next stage.
Cape Verde aren’t great, but Cameroon waltzed past Tunisia, beating them 4-1 in the home leg of the play off. In fairness, they would have probably beaten Cape Verde as well, but they are certainly no longer indomitable, having failed to get out of the group stages since Roger Milla danced his way round a corner flag at Italia ’90. A tournament punctuated with lacklustre displays and more embarrassingly fights between players during matches have made this a World Cup to forget for them. They were comfortably dispatched by Mexico, despite the Central Americans having 2 goals wrongfully disallowed. Against Croatia they offered little, particularly after Song’s flailing elbow saw him see red with the score 1-0.
By the time Assou Ekotto decided to embarrass his nation further by head butting team mate Moukandjo they were 4-0 down. In fairness to the coach Volker Finke, he came out and declared the act disgusting and complained about a lack of discipline and effort from the players. The coach stuck to that, and made changes for the game against Brazil. It worked, to an extent.
They were far improved in terms of effort, discipline and desire, but the quality of Brazil told in the end. At least the final match allowed a few positives for going forward, and with the impressive youngster Alexis Yougouda Kada yet to team up with the senior side then hopefully things can start to improve for this once proud footballing nation.
Then we have Ivory Coast. I had this one down as a tough one to call, fully expecting Colombia to ease through in comfortable fashion, but with the second place up for grabs. So it proved, with the runner up still very tight even with 30 minutes left of the final games.
Heading into stoppage time, it looked like Ivory Coast were going to scrape through, a result which would probably have been fair based on all the group games. Greece were the better team on the night though, and with a Colombia second string dispatching Japan with consummate ease, Greece took their chance. Lamouchi, one of, if not the youngest coach at the World Cup, had his side sat far to deep going into stoppage time and they paid the price. I don’t think it was a penalty personally, but if you sit deep in your box then you put yourself at risk. Samaras, who had put in a good display – and I think is on a free this summer – made absolutely no mistake with the penalty.
Greece now set up a meeting with Costa Rica in the next round, a game Ivory Coast would have had a great chance in. Lamouchi, who was a controversial appointment in the first place, has now resigned from his post although it is highly doubtful his contract, which is up in July, would have been renewed anyway given their poor displays in the World Cup and AFCON. At least Cheik will be back ready for pre season, and there won’t be increased interest in him after an average World Cup.
Nigeria were up next, competing with Argentina, Iran and Bosnia. It looked like the African Champions were going to disappoint once again after their opening match, where not even Shola could rescue them from a poor draw with Iran. Nigeria dominated that game and should have won, but ultimately didn’t take their chances. Although it didn’t all go their way, and Iran created a few chances against what looked a shaky backline. I think a number of people at that point wrote them out of the tournament, but they stormed back to a very good win against Bosnia. Dzeko will have been looking forward to the Nigeria game, having seen some of the defending, but Nigeria managed to shut Bosnia out.
Some people had Bosnia down as a dark horse for this tournament, but they found themselves out after just 2 games, joining other European sides like Spain and England. Argentina’s result against Iran added a touch of respectability to Nigeria’s draw, and meant that Nigeria just required to match Iran’s final result. In the final group match, Nigeria put in a very good showing. A 3-2 defeat to a Messi inspired Argentina is by no means an embarrassment, and they certainly played their part in a very entertaining match. Bosnia beating Iran means that Nigeria became the first African side through.
France await the 2013 AFCON champions, in what will be a difficult match, and possibly the final game of Keshi’s management of Nigeria. Rumours are that he has agreed to coach Bafana Bafana after the World Cup, although they were strongly denied in South Africa and Nigeria yesterday.
The group of death; Ghana, Portugal, Germany and USA. I doubt many expected Germany to brush aside Portugal so comfortably. But with only an half fit Ronaldo, Portugal look to be a very average side. In Ghana’s first 2 games they can consider themselves very unlucky. They definitely deserved more against the US, and they put in a cracking second half display against Germany. I missed the first half of that game, but people said that Ghana were probably the better side overall. Just when you think Ghana could still sneak through though, they implode. Muntari, who would have missed the game anyway, is sent home for slapping a member of the Ghana FA, and Kevin Prince Boateng is sent home for allegedly verbally abusing the coach – an accusation Boateng denies.
Still, as a friend said to me, “As long as Ghana have Gyan, they have hope”. More bad luck followed though, with an unfortunate slice in to his own goal by Boye leaving them trailing and heading home at half time. 10 minutes into the second half though, a delightful cross found Gyan to head home, Germany went ahead and all of a sudden Ghana were in with a great chance. Ronaldo got the last word though, he missed a hatful of chances, but when the keeper and defence got into a mix up and the keeper just palmed it down to Ronaldo, 6 yards out there was only to be one outcome.
Ghana head home, probably feeling that they didn’t get what they deserve, but also knowing that in the final game, they just didn’t do enough.
The final group contained the final African team, Algeria. I know a lot of people had Algeria down as the whipping boys of the group, having failed to score at a World Cup in their recent appearances. But they have talented players, and many African pundits and fans had high hopes for them in this group. A good display against Belgium was then followed up by an imperious display against the South Koreans, setting up what was essentially a winner takes all match with Russia for the second place in the group, with Belgium having already qualified.
Algeria needed just a draw to qualify – unless Korea upset the applecart and beat the Belgians convincingly. Russia played some good football, and another superb cross led to them going ahead. However this Algeria team has a great spirit, as well as ability and when Slimani – a supposed Toon target for all of 5 minutes – headed home the equaliser the players, fans and staff knew it was theirs to throw away. A backs to the wall job for the last 10-15 minutes, but they go through for the first time in their history.
Sadly, I think that will be as far as African nations get, France face Nigeria and Algeria will play Germany. Both would have to be at their very best to qualify, and both will have 1 billion Africans cheering them on all the way.
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