Four years have past since the World Cup was held on African soil for the very first time and it’s safe to say that the buzz in that continent still remains. For the five African nations that have qualified for Brazil, it’s a moment to showcase to the world how football in that region is developing with all five naming exciting squads for the biggest football tournament on the planet. None are expected to win the event but all five have the ability to provide shocks along the way and should be pushing for places in the latter rounds. Nigeria in particular will want to continue to build momentum off of the back of their successful African Nations triumph in 2013 but will be mindful of setting expectations too high given the crash back down to earth the received at the Confederations Cups only months later. Head coach Stephen Keshi has kept faith with the team that won the African Cup of Nations in South Africa last January with Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel likely to play a major role. The recall of Peter Odemwingie and recent addition of former Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi will add experience and options upfront to a fairly young Nigerian side. Last nights friendly against Scotland gave Keshi a better opportunity to assess which 23 of his prelimary squad of 30 will be heading to Brazil and who else will be going home. For the Super Eagles, who often face heavy criticism from various elements back home who want to derail them, it’s a chance to showcase why they are currently the best team in Africa.
It’s decision making time too for Cameroon who made it to Brazil despite playing poorly in qualification. The ever green legs of Samuel Eto’o carried a lot of the weight and his goals ensure the team qualified. More importantly for Cameroon coach Volker Finke, the issues between Eto’o and several other members of the squad that plagued the team’s qualifying campaign have now been resolved and the group is once again at peace. A freak injury to Pierre Achille Webo during the warm up match against Macedonia is the only fitness concern with Hamburg’s Jacques Zoua already ruled out with injury some time ago. Finke named a 28 man provisional squad and is deciding who to axe before the deadline to bring it in line with the required 23 man limit. One player who has marked his card to go is Lorient striker Vincent Aboubakar who has finished this season in impressive style with a haul of 16 goals. His inclusion alongside the midfield trio of Jean Makoun, Stephane Mbia and Alexandre Song is almost certain but the same can’t be said for Coton Sport duo Cedric Djeugoue and Loïc Feudjou who are likely to be left behind.
The Ivory Coast face one of the easier groups in the World Cup so qualification to the knockout stages is expected. With Didier Drogba still pulling the strings for The Elephants, experience is key for Sabri Lamouchi as he makes his World Cup debut as a manager. Lamouchi will be the youngest international manager at the Brazil tournament and has picked a side packed full of caps to ensure his stay is extended. Alongside Drogba, there are call ups for Kolo and Yaya Toure, Newcastle’s Cheick Tioté, Swansea’s Wilfred Bony and Trabzonspor’s Didier Zokora. The giant Lacina Traoré makes the provisional squad but his place is not confirmed as the Ivory Coast already have a wealth of riches upfront. However the impressive Serge Aurier is likely to make the cut after a fantastic season with Toulouse in the French Ligue 1. How far the Ivory Coast can proceed in the tournament will rest on whether they can fix their defensive problems with an aging yet experienced backline in front of the error prone Baobacar Barry in goal. It will be a major test for Lamouchi who has only been a manager for 18 months so onlookers will be keen to see how he copes with the pressures that come with the tournament.
Algeria on the other hand name a squad that lacks real international experience with captain Madjid Bougherra as the most capped player on the team with 68 appearances for The Desert Warriors. Algeria’s manager, Vahid Halilhodžić is however highly experienced and will approach this World Cup with the same enthuasism and passion as he has done previously. He will look towards the future and the likes of Granda’s Yacine Brahimi and Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli for inspiration from midfield. A place in the final 23 is also potentially on the cards for Tottenham’s 19 year old winger Nabil Bentaleb but this World Cup may have come too soon for the talented youngster. Leading the line will be either Dinamo Zagreb’s El Arbi Hillel Soudani or Sporting Lisbon’s Islam Slimani with the latter likely to get the nod. Expectaions are low for Algeria who will struggle to get out of a group that includes Belgium, Russia and South Korea. Progress will depend on the result of their second group game against South Korea where if they are able to pick up all three points, playing for a draw against Russia may be enough to snatch second point in the group.
Ghana face a similar situation, placed in a group with Germany, USA and Portugal but few would bet against their progression. In South Africa, Ghana reached the quarter finals only to be knocked out by Uruguay on penalties so Kwesi Appiah and the Black Stars will be hoping to go one or two steps further this time. Former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan will captain the side which has a familour look to it with several members of the 2010 team returning like Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince Boateng but the rest of the squad is made up of Ghana’s fresh crop if talented youngsters, all of which want to use the World Cup as a stage to showcase their skills. Chelsea midfielder Christian Atsu, who was on loan to Vitesse last year is one such player as is Sparta Moscow striker Abdul Majeed Waris who has spent half of last season on loan at Valenciennes. Ghana also has the luxury of calling upon the Ayew brothers (Andre and Jordan) who both possess an abundance of talent and pace. Attacking options will not be an issue but like the Ivory Coast, Ghana’s biggest weakness is at the back with regular goalkeeper Fatau Dauda dropped to the bench in favour of Adam Kwarasey due to bad form and lack of game time. Appiah may play Essien as a holding midfielder in order to protect his weak back four especially against attacking teams like Germany and Portugal but must get all three points against the US in their opening game to stand a chance of progressing to the knock out stages.
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