All eyes on AfricaWith South Africa hosting the first World Cup to be held on African soil, there will be no shortage of nations looking to do their home continent proud. Join Alan Dudman as he casts an eye over the potential teams in the running for 2010’s Top African Team.
It was the great Pele who infamously predicted that an African nation would win the World Cup by the year 2000. The Brazilian also advertised the anti-impotence drug Viagra, and such is the strength of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) challenge for 2010 that each team could do with a dose to enhance their staying power for this summer's FIFA showpiece.
South Africa 2010 and the very first World Cup on African soil – it really ought to give the likes of Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Nigeria the chance to finally make an impact on the biggest stage of them all. However, if events from the recent Cup of Nations tournament are anything to go by, the reality is likely to be far less of a fairytale story.
Egypt were the winners of the CON tournament in Angola, and in lifting the trophy they showed why they are the best CAF team around. Unfortunately for the hopes of the continent in South Africa, Egypt failed to qualify for the World Cup – and as a result it certainly looks as though Pele's bold prediction will be lasting at least until 2014.
Robbed of the Pharoahs, the best chance for an African team to win the tournament rests with Ivory Coast at 28/1. Other than that, the remaining African nations are a collection of long-shots, with erratic pair Cameroon and Nigeria both priced at 100/1, while Ghana (80/1), South Africa (125/1) and Algeria (600/1) round out the betting.
The bookmakers have CAF down as a 12/1 chance in the 'winning region' market, but that is appalling value – as too is the 5/4 on offer for a first-time winner. For the best punting opportunities, one has to delve into the 'Top African Side' markets, where some false and wildly fanciful odds are available to the more astute World Cup bettor.
Let’s start with the false odds. Ivory Coast are 11/10 to be top African team, and they are definitely the ones to avoid. Now managed (in the loosest sense) by Sven Goran Eriksson after they flopped again as favourites in Angola, the Elephants need passion and direction and someone to harness all their terrific individual talent.
However, the Swede couldn't do it with England, so there seems to be little chance that he’ll be able to do it with a lesser group of players – as was demonstrated by his awful attempts at managing Mexico. Additionally they face one of the toughest groups in qualifying and will have to navigate past big-hitters Brazil and Portugal.
Nigeria have always fascinated me as a team – an obsession that started with glimpses of the brilliant Jay-Jay Okocha in the early 1990s – and they are 6/1 to be top CAF team. They are also 4/1 to win Group B – which consists of Argentina, Greece and South Korea – and represents easily the kindest draw for any of the African sides.
For 20 years the Super Eagles have been anything but super. Indeed, they are arguably the most shambolic of all the teams from the region – and that’s in the face of some stiff competition! However, unlike Ivory Coast, they have picked the right Swede to manage them in the shape of Lars Lagerback. The 61-year-old looks the ideal appointment, and it will be interesting to see if the disciplinarian can work his rigid magic on a team that was once blessed with virtually unrivalled creativity.
Cameroon were another team who looked poor in the African Cup of Nations, recording their solitary win against Zambia. Former talismans Geremi and Rigobert Song are now both older than the HMV dog, and at times during the competition looked painfully slow. They may be Africa's most successful side, but the Indomitable Lions may struggle in Group E and are just not appealing as top CAF side at 9/2.
Ghana were the surprise package of the African Nations Cup, having made the final, and are second favourites to be top African team at 4/1. Brilliantly coached by Milovan Rajevac during the Angolan tournament, the Serbian’s tactical brain is still just as sharp heading to the World Cup. In terms of the squad, Rennes striker Asamoah Gyan is a danger while Isaac Vorsah is a young defender with great class.
The Black Stars have a youthful squad and are by far the most organised of the African nations, but Group D isn't a massively kind draw with Germany, Serbia and Australia all competing. That said, with several big names coming back in time for South Africa, Ghana could be quarter-final material if they remain as well-drilled.
Needless to say, hosts South Africa have no chance, whilst the 25/1 on Algeria to be the top African team looks big, but just about right.
Of the six home continent teams involved in this year’s competition, it is Cameroon who boast the best World Cup record having become the first African nation to reach the quarter-finals during Italia ‘90. Though they’ll be without the age-defying talents of Roger Milla this time out, a favourable group and home continent advantage could just maybe see them go one better this summer.
Cameroon to reach the semi-finals – 16/1 (Bwin)