Much of the build-up to this year’s World Cup has seen the African challenge dismissed. But pride often comes before the fall: Cameroon defeated reigning champions Argentina and rocked England in 1990, Senegal were written off as no-hopers in 2002 before their remarkable run, and Ghana came within a hand’s width of the semi-finals four years ago. This group of African teams is arguably the strongest in years, and any of the continent’s five representatives could cause shocks.
Cameroon (401.00 to win the tournament with AllYouBet.ag)
Of all the African teams, Cameroon have been given the weakest hand. The Indomitable Lions were given the unenviable task of sitting alongside three good sides in Group A: they face Mexico first, followed by Croatia and the small matter of hosts Brazil in Brasilia’s National Stadium. Their current crop of players has not been blessed with creativity, instead relying on solid defensive midfielders like former Arsenal star Alex Song and Aston Villa outcast Jean Makoun.
And yet that may work to their advantage – great World Cup sides are often built from the back and are very difficult to beat, a mould Cameroon fit. They also have a strong group of forwards, spearheaded as ever by the legendary Samuel Eto’o, hoping to finally lead his team out of the group in his fourth and likely final World Cup appearance. Qualification seems doubtful, but they will certainly influence the result of the group.
Betting Instinct tip – Cameroon to score more than 2.5 goals in the group stages is 2.20 with AllYouBet.ag
Côte d’Ivoire (151.00 with Intertops.eu)
Côte d’Ivoire, on the other hand, have a more straightforward task in progressing from the group stage. After two difficult draws in 2006 and 2010, they have been set the task of finding a way through a group that contains Japan, Colombia and Greece, all eminently beatable teams. Didier Drogba is no longer the centre-point of this team, with Swansea’s Wilfried Bony likely to start up front, but Yaya Toure is now an enormous influence. Where the other remaining members of the”Golden Generation” have already begun to decline, the Manchester City midfielder is operating at the peak of his powers and is capable of winning games on his own.
Yaya’s presence may be enough to guide The Elephants into the second round for the first time, but his supporting cast is also impressive. Alongside him in midfield will be Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote, with the width provided by Roma’s Gervinho and former Leeds winger Max Gradel. They look shaky defensively, with a centre-back partnership of the ageing Didier Zokora and former Leicester defender Sol Bamba, but can also call on rising star Serge Aurier at full-back. If the Golden Generation want a Golden Opportunity to qualify for the next round, this is it.
Betting Instinct tip – Côte d’Ivoire to reach the quarter-finals is 5.50 with Intertops.eu
Nigeria (201.00 with AllYouBet.ag)
As in three of their last four appearances at the World Cup, Nigeria have been drawn against Argentina. The Super Eagles fans must be sick of the sound of the Argentine national anthem, as they lost all three of those meetings by a solitary goal. But Nigeria enter the World Cup as strong as they have ever been, with a young, talented group of players who have already proven they can perform on the big occasion by winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
The player that scored the winning goal in the final, Sunday Mba, was a shock omission from the squad, but the other leading Nigerian talents were included: Emmanuel Emenike, John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi, and of course Shola Ameobi. There was also a surprise recall for in-form Stoke striker Peter Odemwingie. Captained by experienced goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, this is a well-balanced squad, superior to Iran and capable of ousting Bosnia & Herzegovina from second place.
Betting Instinct tip – With the other African sides facing challenging groups, Nigeria to go the furthest of all the African sides could be worth a punt at 4.00 with AllYouBet.ag
Ghana (126.00 with Intertops.eu)
Ghana have a much tougher task, but do at least have the experience of qualifying for the second round in the last two World Cups. Much of the side remains the same from that famous run of four years ago: Kevin-Prince Boateng has once again come out of international retirement just in time for the tournament, while Asamoah Gyan no doubt has some demons to banish after his extra-time penalty miss, though has pledged not to take another penalty in his career. In addition, Michael Essien returns after missing the 2010 tournament due to injury, but he is now a faded force and not even guaranteed to start in a midfield which also includes Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu.
Perhaps the player to watch, though, is striker Majeed Waris. The 22-year-old Spartak Moscow forward has scored four times in his first nine appearances for the Black Stars, and has forced his way into a starting berth alongside Gyan. One of these came in the dramatic 6-1 play-off first leg win at home to Egypt which ultimately secured Ghana’s place at the World Cup, a display that demonstrated that when on song they are a formidable attacking force. Though they face a strong group in Germany, Portugal and old foes the USA, don’t count them out just yet.
Betting Instinct tip – Majeed Waris to top-score for Ghana is 7.00 with Intertops.eu
Algeria (751.00 with AllYouBet.ag)
Algeria are also being given little hope, as pundits have already slotted them into the discussion for the weakest team in the tournament. But you could be forgiven for thinking that this is much the same team that slogged its way through three narrow, scrappy games in 2010. Coach Vahid Halilhodzic has overseen a transition to a new generation of talented youngsters, with an attack-minded team which includes Inter’s Saphir Taider, Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam, Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli, and Sporting Club’s Islam Slimani. Added to this, Tottenham’s teenage midfielder Nabil Bentaleb has worked his way into the squad after previously playing for France’s U19 side, while Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez has also been picked after a fine season.
Captained by former Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra, the oldest player in the squad at 31, this is a young side being built for the future, and we may not see Algeria become a force in African football for another two or three years. But if they are dismissed as routinely by Belgium, Russia and South Korea as they are by observers, they are certainly capable of picking up some points in this group. As with Cameroon, progression seems unlikely, but they can certainly be influential. The spirit of 1982, when Algeria defeated West Germany, is with them; their controversial elimination from that tournament will inspire them. Like all the African teams heading to Brazil, they will not be pushovers.
Betting Instinct tip – Algeria to pick up three points in their group is 4.50 with Intertops.eu
JAMES BENNETT (James) is a History MPhil/PhD student, who writes about soccer, Formula 1 and the NFL in his spare time to pay for his studies. He is also a Torquay United fan. He publishes articles in his sports blog, and you can follow him on Twitter and Google+.