World Cup Qualifiers Struggle In Angola

On Sunday, Egypt and Ghana will contest the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Luanda, Angola. The tournament itself has been overshadowed by the horrific events of the days preceding it when the Togo team bus was attacked in the Angolan province of Cabinda. Three people were killed, an Angolan-born bus driver and two Togolese team officials. Togo subsequently withdrew from the tournament. The tournament lost much of its excitement with this terrible incident.

Many observers were considering this tournament as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the 2010 FIFA World Cup to be held in South Africa in just a few months’ time. There can be absolutely no connection made between the terrorist attack on the Togo team bus and fears of a similar incident occurring in South Africa this summer, though some have attempted to suggest that there is.

On the pitch, the African teams that have qualified for this June’s World Cup have had mixed results.

 Pre-tournament favorites Ivory Coast, had a poor tournament on all accounts which ended with a quarterfinal defeat in extra time to Algeria. Tipped by many pundits to challenge Brazil and Portugal in the World Cup’s ‘Group of Death’ for a place in the knockout rounds, the Ivorians blew hot and cold all tournament long. From World Cup darkhorses they are now being viewed as overrated or choke artists on the big stage. That might be harsh, but perhaps not too inaccurate.

Algeria, at first glance, could be suggested to have had a decent tournament with a run to the semifinals. However, upon closer inspection, the performance of the North Africans left much to be desired. An embarassing 3-0 defeat in their opener against Malawi was improved upon with a narrow win against Mali and a draw with the hosts. Then a dramatic and impressive victory against Ivory Coast in the quarters paved the way for yet another meeting with bitter rivals Egypt. Unlike, the World Cup qualifier play-off in Sudan a couple months back, Algeria were demolished 4-0. There will need to be massive improvement on the performances in Angola if Algeria are to do anything in a World Cup group that includes England, USA, and Slovenia.

Cameroon made it to the quarterfinals and lost to Egypt in extra-time 3-1. The Indomitable Lions looked sluggish and limped into the knockout rounds after subpar performances in Group D, where they only edged out a decent Gabon side for second place on goals scored. Their World Cup opponents in Group E, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Japan will not have been worried by the team’s current form.

Nigeria seemed to do a bit better by making it to the semifinals only to narrowly lose 1-0 to Ghana. Still, despite some good results, there are internal problems at play with coach Shaibu Amodu enduring public criticism from players after the Ghana defeat. It remains to be seen whether Amodu will last until June.

The two finalists have been the most impressive participants of the tournament. Ghana, beset by injuries before the tournament, turned to youth and were rewarded with a spot in the final. They have not blown away anyone with their football, but considering the absences of some first-choice players including star man Michael Essien, the Black Stars have acquitted themselves well after opening with a 3-1 loss to Ivory Coast. Ghana boss Milovan Rajevac has employed a defensive approach that has won any style points, but has been good for results.

It has been however a team that did not qualify for the World Cup, Egypt, that has run rampant over everyone in this tournament. The Egyptians are aiming for their third consecutive African title and have won all five of their matches in Angola. Hassan Shehata’s men have scored 14 and conceded only 2 and have swept through the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Algeria.

Sunday’s final against a young, organized, and hungry Ghanaian side will be a good test for Egypt, but they will be considered hot favorites for the title. If they do come out victorious and extend their unbeaten run in the African Cup of Nations to a record 19 matches, then it will confirm what many have thought for a few months now. And that is that Africa’s best side won’t be in the first African World Cup.

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