African nations facing tricky task to make it out of World Cup groups
Coral experts have put their heads together to assess the squads, key players, tactics, and – most importantly of all for punters – chances of the five African nations competing at the World Cup finals in Brazil this summer.
The Greens failed to score at the last World Cup in South Africa, so punters can be sanguine about their chances. Coral make Algeria massive 750/1 outsiders to win the tournament in Brazil.
They are also the least likely nation in Group H, which also involves Belgium, Russia and South Korea, to win that pool at 25/1 and qualify for the knockout phase at 9/2. Algeria are odds-on 1/7 favourites to be eliminated at the first finals hurdles.
Scoring is the main issue, and will continue to be so if striker Rafik Djebbour’s one goal in seven Championship appearances for Nottingham Forest is a measure of their attack.
They have a strong defence, however, and conceded just seven times in qualifying.
Former Charlton and Rangers centre half Madjid Bougherra skippers the side and marshals the Greens rear-guard. There is plenty of protection for the back four to boot.
Valencia winger Sofiane Feghouli is their main creative force, but Algeria’s chances look slim.
Chelsea frontman Samuel Eto’o captains the Indomitable Lions, but the veteran striker will have his work cut out for him in a tough group. Cameroon have been drawn with tournament hosts and favourites Brazil, Croatia and Mexico.
They are 25/1 outsiders to top this pool and a 4/1 shot to reach the knockout phase. Coral rate them slightly more likely to lift the trophy than Algeria at 500/1, though.
Where Cameroon will come unstuck is central midfield. They are crying out for creativity there, but the Lions are likely to play a flat three of holding players designed to make them tough to break down.
Barcelona’s Alex Song, formerly of Arsenal, will be key in this area. Width will come from QPR left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, on loan from Tottenham, and younger legs, like those of Lorient forward Vincent Aboubakar, in wide positions.
Midfield strength in depth is the Black Stars’ main asset. Former Premier League trio Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari are vastly experienced and provide a powerful and physical passing presence.
Width and creativity comes from the Ayew brothers (Andre and Jordan), Juventus’s Kwadwo Asamoah, Albert Adomah of Middlesbrough and Christian Atsu – owned by Chelsea but on loan at Eredivisie outfit Vitesse Arnhem.
Coral are cautious on Ghana, however, and make them 150/1 to be World Cup winners because Group G contains European heavyweights Germany and Portugal (as well as the USA). All three opponents in their pool are used to making the knockout stages, so that explains why James Kwesi Appiah’s team are 10/1 to finish top and 5/2 to qualify from it.
Defence, which no longer contains John Mensah (a younger namesake of the former Sunderland loanee is in the squad) and Sammy Kuffour, looks somewhat average. There is also a lack of experienced backup to Asmoah Gyan (another old Black Cat) in attack.
Didier Drogba and company are the African nation rated most likely by Coral to lift the trophy at 125/1. The Elephants are second-favourites to win Group C at 4/1 behind Colombia and are even-money to make the knockout phase.
Brazil will be something of a last chance saloon for Drogba and other senior players. The Ivory Coast’s ‘Golden Generation’ have failed to win a tournament, and doing so here will be a tough ask, but it is well within the bounds of possibility that they will make an impression here.
Manchester City midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure is having the season of his life, and industrious Japan, plus a Greek side that plays not to lose, will struggle to contain him if he is given similar licence for his country.
Strength in depth is available right through the outfield 10. A run to the quarter-finals is more than possible for the Ivory Coast, and odds of 13/2 on them exiting the competition at that stage are tempting.
Head coach Stephen Keshi faces a youth versus experience dilemma for the Super Eagles at the World Cup finals. What shape will his squad take? The sensible thing to do is to blend both, but there is precious little time to do that now.
Newcastle United target man Shola Ameobi is a great option to have, yet there are more youthful and pacier legs that could lead Nigeria’s line. Victor Moses, who has spent the season on loan at Liverpool but seldom figured, is the main wide threat for the Super Eagles. Joseph Yobo will be the grand old man in defence, surrounded by players in their 20s.
In light of those selection headaches, coupled with the fact Nigeria are drawn alongside Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina (plus rank outsiders Iran), Coral make them 200/1 outsiders for glory in Brazil.
Keshi must avoid a repeat of the delay in getting his squad flown out to South America for the Confederations Cup last summer, as acclimatising is vital ahead of a truly competitive tournament. His Super Eagles are third-favourites to win Group F at 7/1 and 13/10 to qualify from it.