The African Dream - Little Boy Blue's World Cup Countdown
I'm inclined to think that the forthcoming tournament will be now-or-never time for the teams from the Dark Continent. As hosts, the pressure will be on South Africa to deliver but, although they did fairly well in last year's Confederations Cup, there are genuine fears that they won't make it out of the first stage. Grouped with France, Uruguay and Mexico, the draw has done the hosts no favours whatsoever and, without a big name player in the squad (Benni McCarthy has seen better days), it would be no surprise if they struggled.
But history tells us the host nation tends to benefit from a hometown decision or two - remember South Korea in 2002? - so their opponents will have to be on their toes. The opening match against Mexico on June 11 will set the tone for South Africa's challenge. A good performance and a victory would give them a huge lift and could mean problems for Uruguay who face them five days later. But defeat from Mexico, who looked quite good at Wembley last week, would puncture morale and they can hardly expect to take anything from their remaining games against much tougher opposition.
Madjid Bougherra's inclusion in the Algeria squad will be enough to command the attention of most Rangers supporters. We didn't see too much of Bougie in the final weeks of the season and, assuming he has a good World Cup, there is every likelihood that he won't pull a blue jersey over his head again but I'll certainly be rooting for him, especially when he lines up against England on June 18. I fancy Algeria to open up with a win over Slovenia, the game against England will be difficult so their hopes could then be determined to by their final match against USA, with hopefully Mo Edu and Damarcus Beasley in action, on June 23.Who will I support in that one? Decisions, decisions…
Many Rangers fans will also be very interested in how Paul Le Guen's Cameroon perform. Having won world acclaim for their run to the quarter-finals in Italy in 1990, the Indomitable Lions have struggled to match that feat in subsequent years but there is a feeling within the camp that this World Cup will see them re-establish themselves as Africa's top team. At time of writing, there is talk of Samuel Eto'o pulling out in response to some OTT media criticism but I'm sure PLG's powers of persuasion will keep the Inter man on board. I'll certainly be checking out the foul count against Landry N'Guemo!!!
Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast see themselves as Africa's best hope but sharing Group G with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea sees them facing a very difficult task. Assuming it will be Brazil and A.N.Other to qualify, their first fixture against Portugal on June 15 will be crucial. Sven-Goran Eriksson will make sure they are a solid well-organised unit but, while Drogba is undoubtedly a top drawer talent, he is miles ahead of his team-mates and, in such a tough group, lack of support for their main man could be the decisive factor so the onus will be on the likes of Kolo Toure, Yaya Toure, Didier Zokoro and Salomon Kalou to rise to the occasion and ensure the Ivory Coast are not a one man band.
Ghana also fancy their chances but the absence of Chelsea's Michael Essien is a big blow. Germany, Serbia and Australia lie in wait in Group D which is not the sort of draw to have them losing too much sleep. Has Prince Boateng recovered from the agony of missing a penalty kick in the FA Cup Final? In Sulley Muntari, Stephen Appiah and Asamoah Gyan the Black Stars don't lack quality and, like so many potential challengers, their prospects could hinge on how their opening game (against the Serbs on June 13) pans out.
Nigeria's hopes will rest on the firepower of strikers Victor Anichebe, Alyegbeni Yakubu and Obafemi Martins and, with Greece and South Korea in their group alongside Argentina, it would be no great shock to see the Nigerians in the knock-out stages. Kicking off against Argentina on June 12, anything they get from that game will be a bonus and they can then focus on taking care of Greece and South Korea.
Of the six African contenders, I feel they will do well to get two through the group stage, with Algeria fancied to upset the USA in Group C and Nigeria tipped to do well in Group B. Depending on my mood on the day, however, I might also be tempted to have a wee punt on the Ivory Coast to shock Portugal on June 15 and that would really blow Group G wide open. One thing is certain, African nations will never have a better chance to grab a slice of World Cup glory. Tomorrow: BRAZILLIANT! Guess who LBB is tipping for success in South Africa?