World Cup 2010 Comment: How Does The Draw Bode For Africa?

Rami Ayari takes a look at what Friday’s World Cup draw means for the African teams on the continent.
Months ago I wrote that the first African based World Cup could mean that we’d see the first African representative reach the Semi Finals of the tournament.

While this remains to be seen, a primary analysis of Friday’s draw points to the opening matches as being absolutely critical to each CAF side's chances of making the second round. Let’s take a look:

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay and France.

Considering South Africa’s current struggles to score goals, let alone win games, it is difficult to imagine that they will make the second round. Even though hosting the tournament gives them a distinct advantage in terms of support and familiarity with their surroundings, being drawn in a group with an experienced French team, a resurgent Mexico, and a dangerous Uruguay means that collecting points from each game will be a serious challenge.

Nevertheless, their performances against Brazil and Spain in the knockout stage of this year's Confederations Cup remain a cause for optimism considering they barely lost to Brazil (1-0) and then were edged out by Spain (3-2 after extra time). Even if they are outsiders on paper, one would hope for the hosts' sake that they can raise their level and put on a show for their loyal fans.

Their opener against Mexico will go a long way to deciding their fate as it will set the tone for the rest of the campaign. A loss there might prove too difficult to overcome as the pressure will likely become unbearable for the players while a win will whet their appetite for more success.

Chances of qualifying for the second round: Low

Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea and Greece.

This is one of the most quietly intriguing groups of the World Cup. Despite their pedigree, Argentina have a ways to go before they start producing their tango flair while South Korea are an ever improving team who have already shocked the globe in the past with their triumphs over Italy and Spain during the 2002 edition they co-hosted with Japan.

Meanwhile, Greece are back at the footballing showcase event after a 16-year absence and with the same man who inspired their Euro 2004 title win, Otto Rehhagel, at the helm. The African representative in the group, Nigeria, qualified by the skin of their teeth after a less than stellar campaign that only came to life on the final day of qualifying.

Nevertheless, the Super Eagles will fancy their chances considering they know the Albiceleste well from Olympic team competitions and have nothing to envy of South Korea or Greece in terms of raw talent.

The main drawback for Nigeria is their lack of tactical discipline and defensive frailty that they exhibited in qualifying while their strength is undoubtedly their scoring prowess. If the players begin working for each other in defence then this team can go far but time will tell whether they can overcome their shortcomings when they lose possession of the ball. Their first match happens to be against their main group rivals so avoiding a loss is crucial.

Chances of qualifying for the second round: Fair

Group C: England, USA, Algeria and Slovenia.

It’s been more than two decades since they last qualified for a World Cup but the Fennecs are finally back on the global stage. The Algerians have already recorded a great accomplishment in their very qualification. Their highly dramatic qualifying campaign, which included an incredibly stressful and ultimately controversial triple confrontation with bitter rivals Egypt, has attracted many plaudits from across the world.

That difficult path to South Africa coupled with the fact that their fans are just excited to see their side at a the prime FIFA event means that they have practically nothing to lose and all to gain in a group that includes two of the biggest media markets on the planet.

England are undoubtedly favourites and should progress under the guidance of Fabio Capello whilst the USA have a slight edge on both Algeria and Slovenia simply because they are more accustomed to this competition and know its pitfalls well.

The North Africans have correctly singled out their opener as the match that they must win at all costs but that won’t be a simple task at all against a surprising Slovenia. Just ask Guus Hiddink.

Chances of qualifying for the second round: Low

Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia and Ghana.

Four years after their first World Cup, the Blackstars are back for more and were even the first CAF team to qualify as they booked their ticket with two matches to spare. Some might argue that their group was not that difficult (Mali, Benin and Sudan) but anyone who says that has not grasped the new reality of the increasingly competitive nature of the African footballing landscape.

As for this group, it is well balanced as each team can foster legitimate aspirations of reaching the second round. However, the Ghanaians would do well to settle their path to qualification before they have to face Germany in the final group game, just to be safe.

Those sceptical over whether Ghana can emerge from this group need only remind themselves of what was being said prior to the 2006 edition when Stephen Appiah’s team-mates weren’t given a chance in a group that featured Italy, Czech Republic and the USA. We all know how that ended…

Chances of qualifying for the second round: Fair

Group E: Holland, Denmark, Japan, and Cameroon.

Cameroon may have stumbled early on in qualifying but the arrival of Paul Le Guen proved to be just what the West Africans needed as he revitalised his players and made them approach their matches with joy and eagerness rather than what was beginning to look like apprehension and anxiety.

Just like Ghana, Cameroon have the advantage of facing their two main rivals for the second place in the group before they face the favorites. However, this can cut both ways considering that a slip up against either Denmark or Japan would probably mean the need for some kind of result against the Oranje.

Even though the Indomitable Lions are capable of beating anyone on their day, downing the Dutch is not something you want to be counting on in the best of scenarios. Denmark and Japan are no pushovers but the way Le Guen has Cameroon playing it's not a stretch to anticipate them getting the results they need.

Chances of qualifying for the second round: Good

Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal.

The Elephants sure can’t catch a break can they? After their first ever World Cup appearance at the 2006 tournament, where they were drawn in the group of death with Holland, Argentina and Serbia & Montenegro, here they are once more in another one that looks tricky to say the least.

Nevertheless, the presence of North Korea means this group is undoubtedly weaker than their 2006 one where they gave both Holland and Argentina a run for their money in 2-1 losses and then impressively downed Serbia & Montenegro in a 3-2 comeback victory to make sure they didn’t leave Germany empty handed. Experience gained in that competition will be invaluable for Didier Drogba and company, who have come a long way tactically since then.

Plus, if people are even calling this a group of death it is because Cote d’Ivoire makes it one. A group with Portugal and Brazil in it with two other obviously weaker teams would mean it was just another group but this one is special precisely because the Elephants could cause a huge upset.

As has been the theme throughout this piece, the first match is the key for them because they face their main competition for second place: Portugal.

Chances of qualifying for the second round: Fair

No matter what happens it is certain that each of these teams will be boosted by the collective energy of an African fanbase desperate to see one of their sides fulfill the dreams and perhaps even doing the unthinkable by keeping the trophy on the continent. It all starts with that first game though!

Rami Ayari,