By Ed Dove
Cameroon lost their dignity and their heads in Fortaleza and became the first of Africa’s five contenders to fall at this summer’s World Cup. Considering the performances of Africa’s quintet to date, can we expect any of them to avoid the Indomitable Lions’ fate and make it to the knock-out stages?
While the Indomitable Lions were unconvincing and uncertain in their opening Group A defeat against Mexico, there was still hope that they could reignite their summer campaign against Croatia on Wednesday evening. The Eastern Europeans, similarly, had lost their opening fixture (against Brazil) albeit following a much more impressive and battling performance.
Volker Finke’s side failed, badly, to repay any of the faith shown in them by fans or observers of the national game. While they started brightly, Ivica Olic opened the scoring on eleven minutes, largely against the run of play.
An idiotic red card for Barcelona’s Alex Song following a mindless elbow drive to the back of Mario Mandzukic’s head was the beginning of the end for the Indomitable Lions. Ivan Perisic doubled the Valtreni’s lead almost immediately after the break before a late Mario Mandzukic brace completed a disastrous night for the Central Africans.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, the cameras caught Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Benjamin Moukandjo squabbling in the dying stages, with the former head-butting his teammate. As a symbol of a team’s disarray, it was pretty perfect.
Cameroon, for the second World Cup in a row, have become the first of the continent’s nations to fall. In South Africa 2010, the continent’s six sides were largely disappointing. Ghana, who drove to the quarter-finals, were a key exception, and South Africa had their moments, but five failed to escape the group.
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Can Africa expect anything better for the rest of June?
The Cote d’Ivoire, who play against Colombia this evening, are looking like the best bet to make it to the Last 16.
The Elephants came from behind to beat Japan in their opening Group C match in Recife. Sabri Lamouchi’s side (and the manager himself) deserve credit for overcoming an unhappy first half to pick up the three points. The result is particularly important when one considers that the Blue Samurai were likely to be the West Africans’ likely rivals for a spot in the Last 16 behind Colombia.
This afternoon, Cote d’Ivoire meet Colombia in a match that promises to be a exciting, attacking affair.
Both sides will be confident following their opening day victories, and both will back themselves to secure a
win and guarantee a spot in the knock-out stages.
For the Golden Generation of the Cote d’Ivoire, today could finally be the day when their decade of unrealised collective ambition and potential reaches its climax. They could end the day with a foot in the Last 16, or the doubts could creep in once again…
Africa’s other nations would love to have three points on the board already, although, for Nigeria, a win in their next match against Bosnia-Herzegovina would have almost the same effect on their chances of making the next round.
Should Nigeria beat the Eastern Europeans, then the Super Eagles’ points total of four will already be more than the Bosnians’ possible total of three. It would then take something special from Iran to eliminate Stephen Keshi’s troops.
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While this analysis may inspire confidence, it becomes too easy to forget Nigeria’s disappointing showing against Iran. By dominating so much possession, the Eagles managed to divert attention away from their dwindling defensive resources and patched up backline. Supporters should be praying that Godfrey Oboabona can return to the side for the match, without he and Omeruo in the heart of defence, there’s a chance that Keshi’s men could be torn apart by Bosnia’s offensive options.
Algeria and Ghana both suffered 2-1 defeats in their opening tournament matches, but the prognoses for the pair are very different.
Morale will be low for the Black Stars after seemingly pulling their match against the United States away from disaster, only for reserve centre-back John Brooks to head home a late winner.
It was a dramatic, unforgettable moment for the watching world, but a hammer-blow for Ghana. With Portugal and Germany to come, it will take a fantastic effort for Kwesi Appiah’s side to earn the points required to advance. With the rampant Germans up first, the Black Stars’ chances of recreating the magical summer of 2010 might come to an abrupt end.
Algeria were defeated by Belgium in their World Cup opener, but they delivered a resilient display and, for long portions of the match, frustrated the star-studded Red Devils side. Admittedly, Algeria lacked ambition, but expect South Korea and Russia to be punished if they open up to Marc Wilmots’s side.
In the end, the Belgians’ options from the bench were too strong for the Desert Foxes and made the difference—they won’t be the first team to fall victim to such strength in depth.
Only four of the last 49 teams to lose their opening game at a World Cup have advanced to the Last 16, but Algeria might be able to buck the trend.
The real test will come when they are asked to take the initiative and be more proactive against South Korea on Sunday in Porto Alegre.
Things may have ended sadly for Cameroon, and Ghana may be on the brink of joining them on the plane home, but the Cote d’Ivoire should at least imitate 2010’s record of one African side in the knock-out stages. It will then be down to either Nigeria or Algeria (or both) to increase the continent’s presence in the final 16.
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