Africa's big five

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Madjid Bougherra celebrates after his goal sent Algeria to the World Cup finals.GettyImagesMadjid Bougherra celebrates after his goal sent Algeria to the World Cup.

The same quintet who represented Africa at the 2010 World Cup, will carry the continent's hopes to Brazil. Ghana and Algeria joined Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon on Tuesday night - the former breaking the hearts of one of the continent’s most troubled nations, Egypt, and the man who was supposed to help ease some of that, Bob Bradley, and the latter putting an end to dark horses, Burkina Faso's run.

Ghana had already done the job at home. Their 6-1 drubbing of Egypt in the first leg was unlikely to be overturned even by the most determined of teams. Egypt's Mohammad Aboutrika played his part in what is likely to be his last match in national colours, supplying the free kick that led to Amr Zaki's opening goal.

But it took until the last stages of the match before the hosts doubled it and they actually needed five times the number of goals they scored in the eventual 2-1 victory to dent Ghana. The Black Stars had the final say through two men who will be expected to lead their World Cup campaign -- Asamoah Gyan and goalscorer Kevin-Prince Boateng.

At his pre-match press engagement, Bradley made an impassioned speech in which he detailed the pride that runs deep in the Egyptian game. He said 90 minutes in Kumasi could not take that away. What has been wrenched from them is the dream that some of their best players, notably Aboutrika and Wael Gomaa, will be able to perform on the biggest stage.

By the time the next World Cup qualifying campaign comes around, for Russia 2018, they will not be part of the set-up. Egypt will have to rebuild, although they have a healthy number of talented youngsters coming through, without Bradley. This era is over and they will have to look to start a new one.

For the Burkinabe, the pain will be far more severe. They held the advantage over Algeria after a 3-2 win at home but the Foxes are a wily lot and their experience in their 1-0 win in Blida was obvious. Algeria were disciplined and patient, they took no risks in the first period and their goal came almost by accident. Madjid Bougherra shot was stopped by Bakary Kone, but he made the mistake of not holding on to the ball. The rebound bounced off the Algerian captain and into the back of the net.

Paul Put has done immense work with the Stallions, he took them to the final of the African Nations' Cup earlier this year and may feel robbed of what would have been an historic appearance at the World Cup. With a good crop of younger players, they have a lot to look forward to, on the continent and in future qualifying campaigns.

They were good enough to challenge some of the best so far and have the potential to come back better next time. Algeria will know they were lucky to sneak through and will be the African side under the most pressure in Brazil.

They were dismal in South Africa, losing two games and playing to a draw in the other but what may haunt them is that they were unable to score a single goal. Lethargic and lacking inspiration, Algeria have to go to Brazil with more ideas.

So do Cameroon, who lost all three matches in South Africa. Ivory Coast and Nigeria didn't fare much better in 2010, also exiting after the first round, but managed slightly stronger showings. Ivory Coast won a match, beating North Korea while Nigeria put up a brave fight against Argentina before losing to Greece and drawing with South Korea. Both teams have the reputations and the form to put in a big performance in Brazil.

All realistic expectation will rest on Ghana. The Black Stars were quarterfinalists in 2010 and are fancied to go further -- maybe even as far as all the way. All of Africa will rally behind them, as they did three years ago, and the other four as the continent aims to reach higher than ever before.


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