Low-key start to Africa’s World Cup

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Following the stalemate between South Korea and Russia, all 32 of the teams competing at the World Cup have begun their campaigns.

Africa’s five have, between them, accrued a meagre four points; amassed following one victory, one draw and three defeats.

Of the quintet, only the Cote d’Ivoire managed a victory, which came after a particularly disappointing first half against Japan. Algeria may have impressed against Belgium, but they were unable to preserve their one-goal advantage and ended up losing 2-1.

Unlike Cameroon and Ghana, Nigeria avoided defeat, but their performance was arguably the worst of the lot. One point against Iran was little better than a defeat in the eyes of many, particularly with Bosnia and Argentina lying in wait.

Here’s a run-down of Africa’s first series of World Cup matches.

Cameroon

The Indomitable Lions kicked off the continent’s tournament on Day 2, with a match against Mexico in Natal.

While the bonus dispute had threatened to disrupt the team’s preparations, the atmosphere was almost euphoric in Yaounde as they received a magnificent send-off—a sign of the optimism.

The sentiment, certainly on that day, was that if Cameroon could continue to demonstrate the quality and the passion they did when they came back to draw 2-2 with Germany in another pre-match friendly, they could escape the group.

Brazil, as hosts, and the most successful side in tournament history, would be expected to advance, along with one of Croatia, Mexico and the Central Africans, all of whom seemed to be on fairly even standing.

It was imperative, however, that the Indomitable Lions managed a result against Mexico in the opening match.

This, they failed to do, going down 1-0 to a second-half Oribe Peralta finish.

In truth, it could have been worse, Giovani dos Santos had not one, but two reasonable goals chalked off for offside.

It was a demoralising start, not least because Volker Finke’s curious decision to start the inexperienced Cedric Djeugoue at right-back seemed to put the team on the back foot from the off.
It’s not over for Cameroon, but a major improvement is needed. They need to beat both Croatia tonight and Brazil in the final group game—four points will not be enough to secure qualification.

This is not impossible, Croatia have been hit with injuries and Brazil laboured against Mexico last night. Without Samuel Eto’o, however, it’s a big ask.

Cote d’Ivoire

On the hour mark, things weren’t looking to promising for the Elephants. Their brittle defence had (predictably) struggled to contain the Japanese attackers, the two halves of their side were struggling to interact and Sabri Lamouchi’s decision to start Wilfried Bony instead of Didier Drogba was not paying off.

To make matters worse, Keisuke Honda had given the Blue Samurai an early start.

On 62 minutes, Lamouchi turned to the veteran superstar.
Impressively, he made a progressive step and replaced a midfielder, Serey Die, instead of underlining Bony’s impotence.

He was rewarded for his faith. Drogba’s introduction lifted the team and, in the space of a few minutes, Bony and Gervinho gave the Ivorians the lead.

In the ‘open’ Group C, the Elephants will fancy their chances of beating Greece and avoiding defeat against Colombia. This will be enough to guarantee a first-ever appearance in the Last 16.

Nigeria

The euphoria has been dripping away from Nigeria over the last few weeks.

A combination of Stephen Keshi’s bewildering squad selection and underwhelming, confused performances in the pre-tournament friendlies had muted enthusiasm, but many, at least, expected that the Super Eagles would come good when coming up against the inferior Iran.

They didn’t.

A 0-0 draw, the poorest match of the tournament so far, demonstrated several concerning things about Keshi’s side this summer.

The absence of Elderson Echiejile, Ideye Brown and Nosa Igiebor—three under-rated, but diverse attacking weapons—meant that the Eagles were incredibly one-dimensional and quickly ran out of ideas of how to break down their limited opponents.

Keshi’s decision to throw on Shola Ameobi for Victor Moses early in the second period suggests that he too may have run out of ideas, or at least is realising that in selecting such an odd squad he has greatly reduced his own options this summer.

It’s true that a win against Bosnia would go a long way to putting Nigeria into the second round regardless, but it would take a major improvement now to pick up the three points against an impressive Dragons side.

It’s possible, of course, but few who witnessed the dirge of Monday night will be holding their breath.

Ghana

In spells, the Black Stars proved why many African football observers believe they have the best resources of any of the continent’s sides.

The USA are an emerging force and yet, after recovering their composure following Clint Dempsey’s 30-second goal, Ghana controlled the contest.

Kwesi Appiah, like Keshi and Lamouchi, made a few odd selection decisions, and the West Africans looked like a different force once he introduced Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien midway through the second half.

It was too little, too late, the Black Stars scored the equaliser (Andre Ayew finished with aplomb) but hadn’t left themselves much time to seal the all-important win.

They were dealt a hammer-blow late on. The pair of John Boye and Jonathan Mensah, unconvincing throughout, failed to pick up substitute John Brooks at a corner, allowing the young centre-back to head a late, dramatic winner in the dying stages.

Like Cameroon against Mexico, as an isolated result Ghana’s defeat is no disaster, but considering they have Portugal and a rampant Germany to come, the prognosis looks bleak.

Algeria

Finally, Algeria, for whom progress is perhaps the most complicated to access. On the one hand, they lost, being defeated 2-1 by a Belgian side who largely flattered to deceive. They failed their key objective, which was to prevent the Red Devils from overturning the Desert Foxes’ lead.

On the other hand, however, they largely impressed. Their forays forward weren’t too consistent nor regular, although Sofiane Feghouli, who won and converted the penalty, impressed.

They stymied and frustrated Belgium, remaining resolute, disciplined and dogged in defensive areas and yet not losing composure as has previously been a concern for the side.

Compare this defeat to the 3-2 reverse against Burkina Faso in the CAF play-off first round match, and you see Vahid Halilhodzic’s work bearing fruit.

The real test will come against Russia and South Korea, eminently more beatable than Belgium, when the Maghrebi side will be charged with coming out and taking the game to their opponents.

Twitter: @Eddydove

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