African Teams in a Dogfight for World Cup Slots


The Black Stars will shine in South Africa

Brazil is known as the neutral’s favorite, but I have always been partial to the African teams. They seem to play without the crushing pressure that causes other teams to implode. The pride the players feel when playing for their country is a little more palpable. I felt bad for Cameroon in 1982, who lost out to Italy on goal difference to advance. But I felt worse for Algeria, who had shocked Germany 2-1 only to see them get bounced after the Anschluss in Gijon (Germany's 1-0 victory over the Austrians that conveniently allowed both European teams to advance, at the expense of Algeria). 8 years later, though, the Indomitable Lions quarterfinal run was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal tournament. When Senegal upset France in 2002, I made sure to look up a Dakar newspaper to see the local euphoria. There was plenty of it. And let’s face it, the African team have the coolest nicknames.

Four years ago, I was on the roof of the Cotton Bowl, desperately trying to connect to the web to see what was happening on the last day of qualification for Germany 2006 before the annual Texas-OU game. Most of the spots had already been claimed, but every single ticket from Africa was still in play. Once I got online, I was expecting to see the usual suspects: Cameroon, Nigeria, Morocco, South Africa, etc.
But those flags were nowhere to be seen. We saw 4 countries make their world cup debuts: Togo, Angola, Ghana and Côte D’Ivoire joined past participants Tunisia. The perennials were ousted. Such is the qualifying dynamic in Africa.

With 2 matches left in African group play, only one country, Ghana, has won their place.

Group A
Cameroon – 7pts -- +2 GD
Gabon – 6pts -- +1 GD
Togo – 5pts -- -2GD
Morocco – 3pts -- -1GD

Cameroon hosts Togo and is away to Morocco. A win over Togo would eliminate Emanuel Adebayor’s team from contention, but a tie against the Atlas Lions in Morocco will not be enough if Gabon somehow manages to win both its fixtures. Either way, this one is going to Matchday 6. The Gabonese (the azingo nationale) have the Little General, Alain Giresse, as their coach.

Prediction:
I have no idea. So I just asked my wife, and she says Cameroon.

Group B
Tunisia -- 8 pts - +3 GD
Nigeria – 6 pts +3 GD

The Carthage Eagles have the upper hand on the Super Eagles in the group and in the tiebreaker. The only way Nigeria goes through is if Tunisia does not get to twelve points.

Prediction:
Tunisia gets the job done to make their 4th straight World Cup, and the rest of us will have to suffer from the absence of the Super Eagles and their creative goal celebrations.

Group C
Algeria -- 10 pts - +5 GD
Egypt – 7 pts - +2 GD

Egypt, The two-time defending Africa Cup of Nations Champs, screwed the pooch by tying Zambia at home in matchday 2. The Pharaohs have to get a win in Zambia and then win by either 2-0 or 3 goals at home to Algeria.

Prediction:
The Desert Foxes should make their first World Cup in 24 years, but crazier things have happened.

Group D:
Ghana have qualified for the World Cup, and the Black Stars will be a very strong candidate to advance to the knockouts and beyond because of their superb midfield.

Group E:
Côte d'Ivoire – 12 pts - +12 GD
Burkina Faso – 6 pts - -3 GD

Unless the Côte d’Ivoire suffer a calamity of Houston Oiler-like proportions, we should all get to see the Elephants strut their stuff in South Africa. They seemed a little trigger shy in Germany. I expect that won’t be the case next summer. They are another who have the horses (well, elephants) to make a deep run.

The 6 teams from Africa will field strong sides and all will be playing home games. In other words, they are going to be a very tough out. It would not surprise me at all if up to 3 teams make it as far as the quarterfinals.

Net week: CONMEBOL