27 June 2014
Four years on from the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the first ever held in Africa, the continent’s representatives have so far put in a strong showing at Brazil 2014, with two out of five teams progressing to the round of 16 after the conclusion of the group stage of the 2014 Fifa World Cup on Thursday.
In South Africa in 2010, Ghana were the only African team to move on to the round of 16, where it took a hand-ball by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez to prevent them from becoming the first African team to qualify for the semi-finals of a football World Cup.
Nigeria: second in Group F
Nigeria, who claimed the Africa Cup of Nations title in South Africa in February, improved from finishing bottom of their group in 2010 to taking second place in Group F in 2014, and moving on to a round of 16 showdown with Group E winners France in Brasilia on Monday.
The Super Eagles finished behind Argentina, but above Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran. Their results included a crucial 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, a goalless draw with Iran and a thrilling 2-3 defeat to Argentina.
It was in their loss to the Argentinians that Nigeria made the biggest impact. After Lionel Messi had given the South Americans the lead in the third minute, the Super Eagles struck back a minute later through Ahmed Musa.
Then, after Messi had put his side back in front just before the break, Nigeria struck back with two minutes of the restart, again through Musa, who finished with aplomb for the second time.
Marcos Rojo scored what proved to be the winning goal not long after that, but the Nigerians had made a strong statement, even in defeat. It came in their attitude as much as it came in the closeness of the result. When Argentina scored, there was no slumping of the shoulders or even the slightest indication of the inevitability of the outcome of the contest. Instead, Stephen Keshi’s charges roared back into the game twice with excellent goals.
In some people’s minds, African football is regarded as being inferior. However, in the minds of the Nigerian players, it is clearly not inferior and they are not intimidated by any teams, even those loaded with star players.
Algeria: second in Group H
The biggest and best surprise so far among Africa’s contenders in Brazil has been provided by Algeria, whose group stage performances exhibited discipline, flair and pace. In their first match they pushed highly-rated Belgium all the way before a late goal earned the European side a 2-1 win.
Responding superbly to that setback, they became the first African team to score four goals in a World Cup finals match when they outplayed South Korea, a round of 16 team four years earlier, by four goals to two. The Atlas Lions led 3-0 at half-time.
A pulsating 1-1 draw with Russia in their final group game was enough for the Desert Foxes to get second place in Group H, securing their place in the round of 16. They will meet Group G winners Germany in Porto Alegre on Monday.
Ivory Coast: third in Group C
In 2010, Ivory Coast was drawn in a very tough pool, which included Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. They finished third and failed to advance to the round of 16.
This time around, although there were suspicions before the finals that the Elephants might be a bit long in the tooth, another third-place finish was a bit of a disappointment.
Contesting Group C, they finished behind Colombia and Greece and above Japan. A controversial 1-2 loss to the Greeks proved to be the critical result. In their other outings they beat Japan 2-1 and lost 1-2 to Colombia, who progressed with a perfect three wins in three starts.
Ghana: fourth in Group G
Ghana, the darlings of Africa four years ago, when they narrowly missed out on the semi-finals – thanks to a cynical hand-ball on the goal line by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez – were drawn in a tough group with Germany, Portugal and the United States.
In their first game, against an under-rated USA (even though the Americans are ranked 13th in the world), the Black Stars went down 1-2 to a late goal by Anthony Brooks.
They showed their mettle second time out when, after falling a goal behind Germany, they took a 2-1 lead before having to settle for a 2-2 draw after Miroslav Klose netted his World Cup finals record-equalling 15th goal.
Like Nigeria and Algeria, Ghana showed in that match that they feared no team and that they could match any side blow for blow.
However, in the end they undermined themselves with in-fighting and payment disputes ahead of their final game against Portugal, losing 2-1 to end fourth a disappointing 4th in Group G.
Cameroon: fourth in Group A
But it was Cameroon that was the biggest let-down for African fans – and arguably the most disappointing side of the 2014 Fifa World Cup. Their preparation for the tournament had been overshadowed by a row over bonuses, and their performances on the field clearly showed a divided team.
This divide was made clear for all to see when Benoit Assou-Ekotto aimed a headbutt at team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo in the side’s disappointing 0-4 loss to Croatia in their second outing.
They also went down 0-1 to Mexico and 1-4 to Brazil to finish with three losses in three matches for the second World Cup finals in succession.