Africa has produced some of the greatest footballers to grace game. Roger Milla, Abedi Pele, Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba are just a few of the African icons to have won the biggest prizes in club football.
It comes as a surprise then, that no African side has ever lifted the biggest prize in word football. So what of the classes of 2014? Below we take a look the African teams in Brazil, how they got there and asses if they can finally break the duck this time around.
Arguably the strongest African nation participating in Brazil, the Elephants qualified for the tournament following a tense 4-2 aggregate playoff win against Senegal. A team packed full of talent, it is worth noting the number of Ivoirians who will be heading into the tournament on the back of fantastic seasons for their clubs. Between Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and Yaya Toure, over 100 goals have been scored in Europe’s major leagues.
Coach Sabri Lamou has a squad that strikes a perfect balance between talent and experience. With so many talented attackers to call from, Lamou opts for a formation where he can include as many of his goal scoring threats as possible – often a variation of 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. A midfield trio of Basel’s Serey Die, Cheik Tiote and the indispensable Yaya Toure is a perfectly balanced midfield tasked with providing creativity, drive, and energy.
Too often the Ivoirians lose focus at major tournaments and do not achieve what they really ought to. If they are to go deep into the finals as a squad of their quality and stature should, Lamou will need to instill a motivation and hunger to a group of players who have the ability to beat anybody on their day.
Key Player: Yaya Toure
Even with such riches in attack, Yaya Toure is simply THE man. Coming off the back of arguably his best season in club football, with 19 goals from a withdrawn midfield role, a lot of the nations hopes and dreams are pinned on Toure to show that he is on par with the great European midfielders of this generation.
Ghana were the most impressive qualifiers out of the African teams; the top scorers with 18 goals and amassed more than points, higher than any other country in the region. Everybody’s second favourite team in 2010, only a goal-line Luis Suarez handball and a subsequent Asamoah Gyan missed penalty stood in their way of a historic semi final appearance. Head coach Akwasi Appiah has instilled a drive, determination and a clear philosophy into this team, using a system to suit the strengths of his players. Appiah’s preferred formation alters between a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, with the Ghanaians clear strength lying in midfield.
Sulley Muntari and in particular Michael Essien aren’t the fearsome duo of years gone by, but still offer energy and drive to a powerful midfield. Add to the mix defensive midfielder Mohammed Rabiu who is expected to go toe to toe with the aforementioned duo for a starting role; and in the more established European based midfielders, Juventus’ Kwadwo Asamoah and Parma’s Afriyie Acquah, Ghana have midfielders who are to be respected by any nation. Further forward the flair and creativity of Kevin Prince Boatgeng and Christian Atsu could help swing a match through a moment of individual brilliance. The Ghanaians will be than less optimistic about progressing from their group however, having been dealt a bad hand in the draw, which saw them draw Germany and Portugal, as well as the USA.
Key Player: Kevin Prince Boateng
In a team packed with midfielders full of drive and energy, Kevin Prince Boateng’s individual flair and creativity could add that bit of difference. The Schalke man has the tendency to deliver the unpredictable, and Appiah will task Boateng the role of linking the midfield and creating chances for Asamoah Gyan up top.
Similar to the Ghanaians, should Cameroon navigate their way to the round of 16, they’ll have done so from being in one of the toughest groups in the tournament. Many see Cameroon falling at the first hurdle, with fans and pundits alike expecting one of Croatia or Mexico to follow Brazil out of group.
Whilst not possessing the quality of squads of yesteryear, most notably the infamous side of 1990, Cameroon do posses talent well known to European football fans. Ending the season in scintillating form, Sevilla’s Stephan M’Bia, who was integral for Seville in winning the Europa League, is likely to be manager Volker Finke’s destroyer slash playmaker in a 4-3-3 set up, with more mobility either side of him in the shape of Alex Song amongst others. Song is often assigned the role of box to box midfielder, similar to his days at Arsenal, creating chances for Samuel Eto’o; who will take up his usual role as a lone striker; in a similar fashion to how he used to do for Robin Van Persie. Vincent Aboubakar will be a certainly to flank Eto’o in attack, adding to the Cameroonians goal threat having impressed for Ligue 1 outfit Lorient this term.
Key Player: Samuel Eto’o
The striker will once again be the face of a nation, tasked with netting his country’s goals. Whilst he has the lost some of the speed that made him one of the most fearsome strikers in world football, Eto’o has been able to adapt his game to become more of a poacher; and with the right service could just drag Cameroon beyond the group stages.
The Northern African team were impressive en route to qualifying, racking up a total of 15 points, but almost stumbled at the final hurdle, qualifying on the away goals rule against Burkina Faso in the play offs. A team with filled with many promising youngsters, Algeria’s front six is inexperienced to say the least but brimming with youth, exuberance, and flair. Since pledging his allegiance to Algeria, Tottenham’s Nabil Bentaleb has been tasked with anchoring the midfield, in manager’s Vahid Halilhodžić favoured 4-1-4-1 formation. Ahead of Bentaleb, Inter Milan’s Saphir Taider and Getafe’s Medhi Lacen will occupy the wings, with star man Sofiane Feghouli playing just off the lone man. Add into the mix talented youngsters Yacine Brahimi and Riyad Mahrez, Algeria’s youthful exuberance could provide the fearless factor which could see them progress past the group stages.
Algeria will certainly fancy their chances of getting out of their group, with a team who, if they can perform to their capabilities, are certainly able to beat both Belgium and Mexico. With more pressure being on their group rivals to perform expectations may be lowered on Algeria and allow themselves to play expansive and freely which they are more than capable of doing.
Key man: Sofiane Feghouli
The midfielder is coming off the back of a great season for Valencia and is the man who links play together beautifully for the Algerians. Feghouli has all the attributes associated with the Spanish midfielders he tussles with week in week out in La Liga. He is known to have a keen eye for a pass, lovely balance and a fantastic first touch. So much of Algeria’s good play is associated with Feghouli so if opponents are able to nullify him, half the match may already be won.
Nigeria head into the World Cup on the back of a great few years which not only saw them qualify top of the their group and then make light of Ethiopia in the play offs, but also saw then become the reigning African Cup of Nations champions. Coach Stephen Keshi has the Super Eagles set up in a 4-3-3 formation, and has the team playing with flair and grace reminiscent of teams of old.
A team whose chemistry was apparent at the African Cup of Nations, and has further blossomed since, Nigeria’s key strengths are clearly in midfield and attack. Jon Obi Mikel is the fulcrum of the side, but unlike his role at Chelsea has the freedom to break forward and create chances; with Ogenyi Onazi tasked with the role of shielding a rather feeble centre back pairing of Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona -Nigeria’s backbone is a clear weakness. Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa will be key in creating chances for lone striker Emmanuel Emenike, as well as supplying width for Nigeria, with both full backs known more for their defensive rather than attacking attributes.
Keshi has the Nigerians set up to play to the squad’s strength; which is swift, counter-attacking football. But rather than sit deep and soak up pressure, Keshi has instilled in the team a determination and focus to win possession as high up the pitch as possible, which often leads to Moses and Musa using their pace to run in the spaces left behind by the opposition.
Key Player: Jon Obi Mikel
There are polar opposites between the Mikel who plays for Chelsea and the one who turns out for his country. Whilst he plays in an anchor midfield role for both club and country, and is tasked with providing an effective shield for his defence, for his country he is also the main distributor; tasked with breaking quickly and creating chances for Nigeria’s front three.
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