2014 World Cup Qualifying: Preview of Africa’s 5 Playoff Matches
2014 World Cup Qualifying: Preview of Africa's 5 Playoff Matches
With less than nine months to go until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the qualifying process is starting to wind down as in Africa we are down to the final 10 teams. African qualifying was done a little differently this time around than in the past. Instead of the group stage determining the five qualifiers, the group stage has produced 10 teams that have been paired up with one another in a home and away playoff, with the winner of each playoff punching their ticket for Brazil.
On Monday, the draw to determine the matchups among the 10 finalists took place, setting into stone what teams will be facing off in October and November with a spot in the 2014 World Cup on the line. The draw has produced five intriguing matchups, which likely would have been no matter which teams got paired up with each other. There is so much parody in African soccer, more so than in any other region, creating five interesting matchups of evenly matched teams.
African teams are often overlooked on the world stage, but the 10 teams that are still alive have plenty of stars, notable names in coaching, and plenty of potential to make some noise next summer in Brazil. Of course, only five of the remaining 10 teams will get to Brazil, and predicting what five teams will make it out of the playoff alive and advance to the World Cup will be hard to do. Let’s take a closer look at the five African playoffs in World Cup Qualifying.
Ivory Coast vs. Senegal
With star players like Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, and Salomon Kalou, the Ivory Coast has been arguably the most talented African team for the past decade. But they’ve rarely been able to turn that talent into international success, and this will be the last chance that Drogba and the other veterans on the team have a chance to make deep run in the World Cup. However, Senegal stands in their way of even getting there. Senegal was one of the best stories at the 2002 World Cup, but they haven’t been back since. They have gone through some rough times over the past decade, but the Senegalese are looking strong heading into the playoff. Much like the Ivory Coast, Senegal has some power up top with the likes of Demba Ba, Moussa Sow, and Papiss Cisse, which means there could be a lot of goals scored over the two games between the Ivory Coast and Senegal.
Ethiopia vs. Nigeria
Ethiopia surprised many by winning their group over South Africa to advance to this stage in qualifying, but now they face a tough test in Nigeria, the reigning African champions. The Super Eagles had a lot of success in the 90s, but they haven’t done much since, including an embarrassing effort at the 2010 World Cup. But Nigeria has a new generation of young players who surprised many by winning the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year and gained valuable experience in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Ethiopia appears to be a little overmatched against Nigeria, but both teams struggled to score goals during the last group stage of qualifying, so this should be a low-scoring two game playoff in which one mistake could mean the difference between winning and losing; that gives the Ethiopians a glimmer of hope.
Tunisia vs. Cameroon
This playoff brings together two second-tier African nations that consistently have what it takes to get to the World Cup but don’t have the horses to do much once they get there. Cameroon has been to five of the last six World Cups, but this could be their last chance to play in one with striker Samuel Eto’o leading their attack. As for Tunisia, the only reason they have made it this far is because FIFA sanctioned the Cape Verde Islands for using an ineligible player, meaning Tunisia advanced instead. Tunisia’s performance in the group stage doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in their ability to get past Eto’o and Cameroon, but there have been plenty of undeserving teams in the past that have qualified for a World Cup out of a two-game playoff (looking at you France in 2010), and Tunisia is just good enough to pull the upset over Cameroon with a little bit of luck, regardless of whether they deserve to still be playing or not.
Burkina Faso vs. Algeria
Burkina Faso was close to qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and then reached the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year giving them a realistic chance to make their World Cup debut in 2014 as they appear to be a soccer nation on the rise. They didn’t showcase their scoring prowess much during the group stage, but they have a great attacking player in Moumouni Dagano as well as a strong midfield to support him. As for Algeria, they qualified for the World Cup in 2010 but went scoreless in their three group games. The Algerians are ranked 28th in the world rankings so they will certainly be the favorites in this playoff, but the Algerians can be inconsistent and they will get a stiff challenge from Burkina Faso, who may actually be the more talented team.
Ghana vs. Egypt
Ghana is just about the last team that Egypt head coach Bob Bradley wanted to see in this playoff. Bradley coached the United States at the 2010 World Cup when the Americans were eliminated in the second round by Ghana after Bradley made a poor lineup decision that proved costly. Of course, this offers Bradley an opportunity for redemption, which he certainly wouldn’t mind getting, albeit with a different national team.
Bradley has become one of Egypt’s most important people because of what he’s done with the national team amidst the nation’s political situation, as well as riots that killed 74 fans after an Egyptian League match in February. As for Ghana, the Black Stars are one of Africa’s most talented teams and were painfully close to reaching the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup. It’d be a big surprise and disappointment if they didn’t get to Brazil in 2014 with a chance to repeat that success. Even with all of Egypt’s great success and impressive performance in qualifying thus far, they will be considerable underdogs against Ghana, giving Bradley one of the toughest tests of his coaching career.