World Cup finalists struggle at Nations Cup

2010-01-16 00:00

BENGUELA (Angola) — When the world’s strongest footballing nations gather in South Africa later this year for the World Cup finals, Algeria, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana and the hosts will represent Africa.

Fans and local organisers are hoping that at least one of the African countries can emulate Cameroon and Senegal, who qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals in 1990 and 2002 respectively.

But, if the results at the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola are anything to go by, African countries could well be struggling come June.

After the first round of group matches in Angola, four of the six finalists (South Africa failed to qualify for the finals and Ghana did not play after Togo’s withdrawal/disqualification) have a paltry single point between them.

In Group A, Algeria, who stunned Egypt in the World Cup qualifiers and knocked them out in a play-off played in Sudan, were completely outplayed by minnows Malawi.

The North Africans, who are ranked fifth in Africa and 26th in the world, were never in with a chance against the southern African country ranked 99th in the world, and fully deserved their 3-0 defeat on Monday.

On the same day the Ivory Coast, boasting a whole array of African football stars and ranked 16th in the world, failed to penetrate a compact Burkina Faso defence in their Group B match played in Cabinda.

The 49th ranked Burkinabe team held out for a goalless draw that puts a lot of pressure on the Elephants to escape the Group of Death.

A day later it was the chance of Nigeria to show that they are ready for the World Cup.

But, judging by their display against Egypt in their Group C game played in Benguela, the Super Eagles are anything but in World Cup-form, and a class display saw the Pharaohs come from behind for an emphatic 3-1 victory.

Arguably the biggest upset of the round occurred in Lubango on Wednesday, when the top ranked African team, Cameroon, took on Gabon.

The Indomitable Lions had twice beaten the Azingo Nationale en route to the World Cup finals in South Africa, but this time Gabon, who are ranked 37 places behind in the world rankings, scored early in the first half and then held on for an important victory.

Beleaguered Nigerian coach Shaibu Amodu, whose only chance of leading the West Africans in South Africa later this year seems to be a semi-final place in Angola, does not believe that the World Cup finalists are sitting back.

“I do not think that they are wanting to concentrate only on the World Cup finals. I don’t really think so.

“Sometimes it happens in football that you do not get things right in the first game, but you can recover to be a good side by the end of the tournament.”

Amodu, who is in his fourth stint as Nigerian national team coach, said that there are always upsets.

“I think there are just some elements of surprises that are bound to come to play in this championship,” he said.

“Every team will have to lick its wounds, particularly our team now, which also fell.

“It looks like giants are falling, but I think we can recover from this and continue going.”

Those will be comforting words indeed for African football fans, who are hoping for a good showing by African teams in South Africa in June.

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