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Continent-by-Continent Breakdown: Africa

June 5, 2010

To start to shift the focus to the games and squad themselves, I will take a look at each of the four distinct continents (and I took a few liberties to combine a few countries), separating the squads into three categories: “Most Likely To Win The Cup,” “The Contenders,” and “The Pretenders.” In doing so, I hope you are better informed about each of the squads, their players, and their history (if it’s relevant). This will serve as a jumping off point for each of our individual predictions that will come next week before South Africa and Mexico kick off the tournament. I will start with the host continent, Africa:

MOST LIKELY TO WIN THE CUP:

IVORY COAST – With or without Captain Didier Drogba, this is Africa’s most complete team in terms of talent. They are also experienced with eight of their expected starting XI having at least 50 caps, but only Drogba is over 30 years of age. They are especially hungry for success having qualified for only their second World Cup as they lost to Argentina and the Netherlands in the 2006 edition’s “Group of Death.” If Drogba is unable to go, Chelsea teammate Salomon Kalou and Qatar-based Aruna Dinadane, who have scored 11 and 16 goals, respectively, can provide some scoring bunch. Despite having only been capped nine times, look for the Netherlands-based Cheick Tiote to make an impact at outside midfielder for Ivory Coast.

CONTENDERS:

CAMEROON – They have Africa’s arguably best striker, if not player (Inter Milan’s Samuel Eto’o), and best goalkeeper (Espanyol’s Idriss Carlos Kameni). They have a good combination of experience (namely Turkey-based Rigobert Song) and youth. A pair of Tottenham Hotspur outside-backs (Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Sebastien Bassong) lead the defense. Lyon’s Jean Makoun and Arsenal’s Alexandre Song will look to link the defense to the strike force led by Eto’o. They have also produced Africa’s best results in international competition, capturing the Gold Medal at the 2000 Olympics and finishing second in the 2003 Confederations Cup so Cameroon is always a threat to advance to the knockout stages and beyond.

GHANA – While Cameroon has, perhaps, Africa’s best history, Ghana has Africa’s best most recent history. Their U-20 team captured the 2009 U-20 World Cup and many of those players are now a part of this year’s 23-man squad for Ghana. Of all six African teams in this year’s tournament, they had the best finish in the 2010 African Nations Cup (runner-up to Egypt) and also reached the second round of the 2006 World Cup, knocking off the Czech Republic and United States in the process. Despite the injury to Captain Michael Essien, the midfield is still the strength of Ghana’s squad led by Italy-based players Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari. The question is whether Ghana can score enough in a group with the defensive-minded and tactically strong Germany and Serbia squads, but Lyon’s Asamoah Gyan (who scored the fastest goal of the 2006 World Cup) will look to combine with Germany-based Prince Tagoe or Netherlands-based Matthew Amoah to repeat Ghana’s 2006 performance.

PRETENDERS:

ALGERIA – They survived a bus attack that left several players injured and went on to down the 2010 African Nations Cup winners Egypt in a 1-0 play-off to qualify for this year’s tournament. Their most accomplished player and leading goal scorer (18 goals in 60 caps), France-based Rafik Saifi, is 35-years old. They haven’t performed well in recent friendlies and have only won two away games since 2003 and, while this tournament is played on African home soil, this does not bode well for Algeria in a group with England, the United States, and upstart Slovenia.

NIGERIA – Scoring will not be the problem for this year’s Nigeria squad with three pure strikers, led by Germany-based Obafemi Martins along with England-based Nwankwo Kanu and Yakubu Aiyegbani plus wings Russia-based Peter Odemwingie and Spain-based Kalu Uche. However, the loss of Chelsea FC’s central midfielder John Obi Mikel hurts an already creativity-lacking and inexperienced midfield. Everton’s Joseph Yobo leads a defensive backline that remains a question mark for Nigeria with no set combination of players to fill this role. Another weakness is that, like Ivory Coast, Nigeria can sometime rely on individual play rather than combining as a collective team.

WILD-CARD:

SOUTH AFRICA – With only three European-based players expected to play, Captain Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth), Steven Pienaar (Everton), and Bernard Parker (FC Twente) not much is known about this squad. On home soil, they finished fourth in last year’s Confederations Cup, only losing to perennial power Brazil 1-0 and then followed it up with a 3-2 loss to Euro 2008 Champion Spain in extra-time. They also shocked Denmark 1-0 in a friendly earlier this week so, perhaps, they are in top form in preparation of this year’s tournament. South Africa’s top goal scorer in international play Benni McCarthy’s (West Ham) absence from this year’s 23-man is a head-scratcher, but a lot is expected from Parker in this regard. No host nation has ever failed to make it to the knock-out stage and the group (drawn with France, Mexico, and Uruguay) is not particularly difficult so who knows what kind of results this squad will produce.

Coming Tomorrow: Asia (and Australia and New Zealand)

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