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Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Cameroon favoured to emerge Africa’s Brazil 2014 World Cup reps

By Isaac Umunna, Lagos on 12/10/2013

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The road to the Brazil 2014 World Cup is nearing the end for African teams, with only ten now in the last phase of the qualifiers to produce the continent’s five flagbearers.

After scores of qualifying matches played over the past two years, the stage is set for the emergence of the five senior national football teams to represent Africa at the Brazil 2014 World Cup.

The journey began in November 2011 with all but one of the 53 national associations affiliated to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on the starting blocks – Mauritania having opted out.

The first leg of the final qualifying games comes up this weekend. Today in Ouagadougou Burkina Faso hosts Algeria while Ivory Coast hosts Senegal in Abidjan. Tomorrow, African champions Nigeria will be away to Ethiopia in Addis Ababa while Tunisia welcomes Cameroon in Rades. And on Tuesday, Ghana hosts Egypt in Kumasi.The return leg matches will hold in November 15-19.

Of the ten teams still left in the race, only Ethiopia and Burkina Faso are yet to feature at the World Cup. For Ethiopia, there couldn’t possibly have been a more difficult pairing as both history and current form favour Nigeria, which won five of their last seven meetings, the last being the 2-0 drubbing during the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa.

The only time Ethiopia is on record to have beaten Nigeria in a significant game was in a 1994 AFCON qualifier. The gulf between both sides has since widened. While Nigeria parades an array of battle-hardened professionals most of whom ply their trade with top sides in Europe, Ethiopia counts largely on local players of a lesser pedigree.

Even so, the Ethiopians are by no means intimidated. According to Head Coach Sewnet Bishaw, “It is a good draw for both teams and we will be looking forward to playing Nigeria again after meeting them at AFCON 2013. At that time we were just happy to get back into top level competition and were inexperienced but now we have had many more matches at this level so we will give it a good go against Nigeria.”

Unlike Ethiopia, Burkina Faso looks more likely to qualify for the World Cup this time around. While Algeria has a bigger football pedigree, current form favours the Burkinabes, the 2013 AFCON runners-up and one the continent’s most improved sides. “It’s a balanced draw,” said Burkina Faso’s coach Paul Put. “In Algeria we will face a big football nation so that means we have to do our homework in preparing for these two big games of our lives. Burkinabe players have been active in preparations and we hope to take it from there and build on the self-belief we have got from reaching this stage and also reaching AFCON 2013 finals. This will motivate us to try harder to reach our first World Cup final.”

Responding, Mohamed Raouaraoua, President, Algeria Football Federation, said: “We are well-prepared. There are many new faces in our team who are talented and playing very well at club level. We are hoping to scale through and book our place at the World Cup in Brazil next year. Burkina Faso is playing well currently and will be tough opponents for sure but l believe our experience at this level should serve us well but what l know for sure is it will be an interesting and tight contest.”

Also likely to pick a ticket to the Brazil 2014 World Cup is Ivory Coast, which has a more experienced squad as well as much psychological advantage over Senegal. When both sides met in a 2013 AFCON qualifier, the Ivorians won 4-2 in Abidjan and were two goals ahead in Dakar when crowd violence forced the game to be abandoned in the 74th minute. Senegal was subsequently disqualified from the qualifiers and clamped with a one-year home ban by CAF. The ban runs through the 2014 World Cup playoffs, meaning that Senegal will have to host the return leg in a neutral country, thus robbing the team of massive home fan support.

Ghana versus Egypt is more difficult to predict. Ghana, which reached the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, is looking to join Cameroon as the only other African team to reach three consecutive World Cup finals. The Ghanaians, however, find themselves facing the only side that sailed through the African qualifiers with a 100% record. Besides, Egypt prevailed when the two sides last met in a competitive match, winning 1-0 in the 2010 AFCON final in Angola.

The Egyptians will go into the return leg with a major boost as they will be playing in front of cheering home fans for the first time in almost two years. The game has been scheduled to be played on November 19 at the 30,000-capacity Air Defence Stadium in Cairo and will be attended by fans following series of meetings with the country’s authorities, who have guaranteed security during the encounter.

This is the first time Egypt will be playing in the presence of home fans since the beginning of 2012. Following security concerns, matches have had to be held behind closed doors and away from the biggest cities, Cairo and Alexandria, to the Red Sea resort of El Gouna, after the infamous Port Said stadium disaster that left over 70 persons dead during a league match involving Al Ahly and Al Masry.

In the circumstances, the lamentation of Fred Crentsil, Vice President of Ghana Football Association, is understandable. His words: “It’s the most difficult game, looking at the pairings. It’s the final of finals. We need to start preparations immediately. Egypt is a formidable team, they are playing well and we have to be careful. We playing first at home also gives them an advantage.”

The outcome of the encounter between Tunisia and Cameroon appears easier to predict. For Tunisia, this is a second chance for qualification, having been eliminated from the qualifying competition by minnows Cape Verde. The Tunisians would have been out of the competition if not for the disqualification of Cape Verde for fielding an ineligible player.

Newly appointed coach Ruud Krol, whose first assignment was leading Tunisia to the first leg Tunis on October 13, has admitted that he has a tough job on his hands. “The mission is very difficult. I do not have time to change many things, but I am confident that the players can do better,” said the Dutchman who replaced Nabil Maaloul, who quit his post after an embarrassing 0-2 loss to Cape Verde in the last group qualifying match in September.

Krol has had sleepless nights on account of the quality in the Cameroonian team and has citing striker Samuel Eto’o as a big threat. His words: “Cameroon is big football nation. Eto’o is still a good player and must be watched carefully. It is not for nothing that (Chelsea of England coach) Jose Mourinho went in for him.” Krol is realistic about his team’s chances and, to be fair to him, no one should blame him if his mission turns out to be an impossible one.

Everything considered, the odds favour Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Cameroon to emerge as Africa’s five representatives at the Mundial in Brazil. How accurate this prediction is will be known at the end of hostilities in November.

•Photo courtesy igrooveradio.com shows action involving Nigeria and Burkina Faso, both of whom are favoured to qualify for the Brazil 2014 World Cup.

Source News Express

Posted 12/10/2013 6:24:32 PM

 

 

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