Mixed fortunes for Africa’s five in warm-ups


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In this feature, KickOff.com examines their progress and fortunes to date.

One Friendly Match Played: Drew 2-2 with Scotland at Craven Cottage, London.

As I wrote following the Super Eagles’ international friendly against Scotland, it was not the occasion from which to glean nuggets of wisdom or foresight ahead of Nigeria’s trip to Brazil. Nor, unfortunately, was it a game where one could make assessments over a whole swathe of squad players—even though this was Stephen Keshi’s intention.

While in previous friendlies against Italy and Mexico, the Big Boss attempted to assess a handful of new faces within his established framework, ten of the eleven starters at Craven Cottage will almost certainly not be lining up against Iran in the Super Eagles’ opening World Cup contest.

Michael Uchebo

The likes of Michel Babatunde, Kunle Odunlami and Shola Ameobi struggled to adapt to the unfamiliar and disjointed context and the result was a muddled performance, with Nigeria struggling for cohesion throughout.

Defensively, the triangle of Austin Ejide, Azubuike Egwuekwe and Joseph Yobo looked hapless at worst and rusty at best, while only a handful of performers emerged with much credit.

Goal-scorers Michael Uchebo and Uche Nwofor appeared to have done their chances of playing in Brazil no harm, Peter Odemwingie returned to a hero’s ovation and responded with some smart and incisive touches, Nosa Igiebor looked like a menacing presence in midfield and Ejike Uzoenyi demonstrated what he offers in wide positions.

Only when Keshi begins to play with his first choice players, however, will we truly be able to know what the Super Eagles are capable of in Brazil.

One Friendly Match Played: Lost 1-0 to the Netherlands at the Feyenoord Stadium, Rotterdam.

Kwesi Appiah opted to take a look at a few peripheral figures as the Black Stars fell short against the Netherlands.

Asamoah Gyan

The result—particularly against a strong Dutch side—was not particularly important, but Ghana struggled to impose themselves in a bad-tempered contest.

Without Asamoah Gyan, the strikers struggled to threaten the home side’s goal and with no registered shots on target, the Al Ain forward’s importance to the side was made abundantly clear.

An unconvincing defensive unit was buoyed a little by the continued presence of Adam Kwarasey, rather than the inactive Fatau Dauda between the sticks. It seems likely that the former will now start in Brazil.

He alone does not solve the Black Stars’ issues at the back, however, and with centre-back Jerry Akaminko missing the tournament after suffering a late, late injury against Holland, Appiah may need to do some reshuffling before the West Africans kick off against the United States.

It looks likely that, for the second World Cup running, the misfortunes of others will see Jonathan Mensah drafted into the starting XI.

Three Friendly Matches Played: Won 2-0 against Macedonia, Drew 2-2 with Germany, Lost 2-1 to Paraguay.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have already had three friendly matches since the squad were united at their Austrian training camp towards the end of May.

There has been a steady improvement in the performances, which will have greatly pleased Volker Finke.

All but four of the 28 players originally named by the German manager were given at least a brief substitute appearance to show what they were capable of, with some unexpected names rising in precedence.

Pierre Webo

There was an injury scare for experienced forward Pierre Webo who damaged a shoulder after scoring an elaborate overhead kick against Macedonia but appears to have recovered in time to travel.

In the most recent of the three matches, the 2-2 draw with Germany, Cameroon thrived by playing to their strengths. The Central Africans pressed Joachim Low’s side relentlessly, and while their tackling work was a little over-zealous, their endurance and endeavour earned them a draw.

Crucially, the Lions’ forward three looked cohesive, innovative and dangerous against Germany—not typically compliments you can send in their direction.

The performance and the result—against one of the tournament’s genuine heavyweights—have prompted a re-evaluation of the side’s chances this summer.

Ivory Coast:
One Friendly Match Played; Defeated 2-1 by Bosnia/Herzegovina at the Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

In contrast to Cameroon, fans and pundits might be reassessing their World Cup predictions for the Cote d’Ivoire after their disappointing capitulation at the hands of Nigeria’s group-stage opponents Bosnia.

Yaya Toure

Admittedly, starters such as Sylvain Gbohouo, Ismael Diomande and Mathias Bolly are unlikely to feature in Brazil this summer, let alone start for the Elephants, so it’s perhaps unwise to write off Sabri Lamouchi’s men based on one unconvincing showing.

Nonetheless, the Ivorians’ second string were underwhelming and the struggles of Sol Bamba, especially considering Kolo Toure’s malaria concerns, were particularly unwelcome.

The impotency of Bolly, Max Gradel and Giovani Sio only reinforced the importance of the side’s key attacking figures, Didier Drogba, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure.

Indeed, the side looked transformed when Drogba entered the fray late on, although he alone could not change the outcome of the contest.

One Friendly Match Played; Beat Armenia 3-1 in Sion, Switzerland.

Armenia, despite being ranked 33rd in the FIFA World Rankings, are not a side who looked likely to pose much of a threat to Algeria.

Islam Slimani

Indeed, the Desert Foxes strode into a three-nil first half lead before taking their foot of the gas and letting their opponents score a consolation goal.

Defender Essaid Belkalem scored the opener, before Nabil Ghilas and Islam Slimani ended the match as a contest.

Notably, the game saw the debut of Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez who was called up to the squad and has retained his place in Brazil ahead of the more-established Ryad Boudebouz.

The result and the first half performance will give the North Africans the kind of momentum and morale they need to make an impact in a fairly favourable Group H.

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Follow Ed Dove on Twitter @EddyDove