Poor start for Africa’s giants doesn’t bode well

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - PETER AUF DER HEYDE

BENGUELA, An­gola: When the world’s strong­est foot­balling na­tions gather in South Africa 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 Na­tion­sare 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) had a pal­try 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 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, 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, 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 Shuaibu Amodu, whose only chance of lead­ing the West Africans in South African 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. Some­times it hap­pens 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 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. – Sapa-dpa

GALLO IM­AGES

GIANTS TOP­PLED: Cameroon and their cap­tain Sa­muel Eto’o were shocked by Gabon

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