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Five European sides, three South American sides. Even if you look at some of the teams that have lost World Cup finals, such as Holland, Hungary, Sweden and Czechoslovakia, there is one thing that is missing; an African or Asian finalist.
During the last World Cup in South Africa, Ghana became only the second African side, after Cameroon in 1990, to reach a World Cup Quarter Final. In fact, if it wasn’t for the hands of Luis Suarez, they would have gone forward to a Semi-Final against The Netherlands. They had a perfect chance in the form of a penalty, that was missed by Asamoah Gyan.
With Ghana riding the crest of an African wave just over three years ago, there are questions whether an African side can ever go that far again. Things may be similar next year in Brazil. A carnival culture, similar to the one South African fans created with their Vuvuzelas, will greet each of the 32 teams, and this may buoy the five African sides. On top of that, conditions will be similar to those on the African continent, so which of the five African teams has the best chance of World Cup Glory.
Please note, at the time of writing two spots are up for grabs. Ghana take a 6-1 lead to Egypt, and Burkina Faso attempt to defend a 3-2 lead to qualify for their first World Cup at the expense of Algeria. I will be assuming that Ghana and Burkina Faso qualify.
The Ivory Coast have been one of the most consistent teams in recent years in Africa. Blighted by bad luck in their first two World Cup finals (Argentina and Holland in 2006, Brazil and Portugal in 2010), The Elephants will hoping for a favourable draw next summer. Since qualifying for their first World Cup, they have lost two African Cup Of Nations Finals on Penalties, but still have a squad packed with quality.
Didier Drogba is still one of the most feared strikers in Europe, Kolo and Yaya Toure are part of squads at the top of the Premier League, and Wilfried Bony is starting to show class at Swansea.
The problem the Ivory Coast have is that a lot of their top quality players probably won’t be at the next World Cup in Russia in 2018, so this is their last chance to do something with their golden generation. Again, a lot depends on their draw whether they can get out of their group, but as long as they avoid two big teams, they will look good for a knock-out place.
The reigning African Champions are looking absolutely in great form ahead of the World Cup next year. They knocked off Ethiopia 4-1 in the African play-offs, and they have a squad with a great blend of youth and experience.
Their last two World Cups have been disappointing for The Super Eagles though. Group stage exits in 2002 and 2010 mean that they haven’t reached the second round since 1998, when they shocked a talented Spanish side 3-2 before losing 4-1 to Denmark.
Out of all of the African sides, I feel they have the best chance of going far into the tournament. They are fresh of their African Cup of Nations win, and they have players that will play with little fear and a lot to gain. They can go very far.
The first African side to reach a World Cup quarter final, The Indomitable Lions will head into their seventh World Cup with a lot to prove. They were ranked 31st out of 32 at the last World Cup, and were the first team mathematically eliminated from the tournament.
Again, their squad is a good mix of youngsters and experienced heads, although a huge majority of their hopes will lie in the hands and feet of Samuel Eto’o. Arguably the most talented African Footballer of all time, Eto’o has seen his career stall slightly since winning the UEFA Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010. A lucrative move to Anzhi in Russia did not provide him with winner’s medals, and a move to Chelsea this past summer may be his final chance with a big club.
Another problem they may encounter is a lack of tournament experience. They failed to qualify for the 2012 and 2013 African Cup of Nations, and haven’t played tournament football since the 2010 World Cup. They also may not have a squad strong enough to survive a tough group.
The Black Stars were one penalty away from being the first African World Cup Semi-Finalists, and are currently the second best team in Africa according to FIFA’s latest rankings. They are also a team that has a lot of tournament experience. Although they finished fourth in the past two African Cup of Nations tournaments, their squad is very young, with only one player in their last squad aged 30.
Their qualification is all but a formality, with Egypt needing to score at least five times to take the tie further, and they should be able to start thinking about Brazil now. The quarter finals aren’t an unrealistic aims, especially if they can hit the ground running with some good results. They will also want to continue their unblemished record of qualifying from their group at the finals. They were only defeated by Brazil and Ronaldo in 2006.
The Stallions shocked the African Football World earlier this year when they qualified for the final of the African Cup of Nations. Although defeated by a strong Nigerian side, Burkina Faso have impressed with a great brand of Football.
Their squad isn’t full of household names, but that means little if you can make up for that with a strong team ethic and a desire to play for the shirt. If they can hold on to their lead against Algeria, they will qualify for their first World Cup finals, and they could provide the shock of the tournament if they can qualify out of their group.
To be honest, I think this World Cup may be a bridge too far for an African side to win. There is undoubted quality in amongst some of the teams, but there are teams from Europe and South America who are considerably stronger. There is the possibility though that a Ghana or Nigeria reach the Semi-Finals though, and that can be something to be proud of for a continent that didn’t have a Quarter Finalist until 24 years ago.