Monday, June 21, 2010
African challengers given reality check
The positive spin is that, ahead of the final round of group matches, besides Cameroon, all is not lost for Africa's representatives at the World Cup. However, with only Ghana in control of their own fate, the inquests have already begun into the disappointing showing by the host continent which, in 12 games to date, has a record of one win, four draws and seven defeats with just six goals scored compared to 15 conceded.
Ghana know that avoiding defeat to Germany will be enough for them to secure a knockout round berth for the second consecutive World Cup. However, had the Black Stars got the better of an Australia side playing with ten men for 65 minutes, their future could be even more secure.
Despite clocking up 22 shots, Milovan Rajevac's men had only Asamoah Gyan's penalty to show for their endeavours. The 24-year-old has been impressive in leading the line, a task he has performed on his own at times. Of the nine shots on target registered by the entire Ghana team in their two games, Gyan has six of them.
Meanwhile, preparation for the showdown with Germany has been marred by a bust-up between Sulley Muntari and Rajevac. The midfielder clashed with the Serbian coach after being left on the bench against Australia until the 77th minute and reports suggested that, initially, he was asked to leave the Ghana squad. However, a subsequent apology appears to have settled tensions and Muntari was back in training on Monday, although his status for Wednesday's game remains unclear.
Algeria got little attention ahead of their encounter with England and, despite holding Fabio Capello's side to a goalless draw, have received little love ever since. The performance in Cape Town was a defensive triumph for Rabah Sadanne who must now solve the attacking problem which has seen his side score just once in the last seven games.
In two games, Algeria have mustered just three shots on goal. The Desert Foxes have little proven firepower at international level with just one, Rafik Saifi (18), having scored more than five times for his country. The veteran could be an option against a USA backline that has shown vulnerability at times but, according to a report on Monday, Sadanne is likely to opt for a three-man front line which will see Karim Ziani support Rafik Djebbour and Karim Ziani.
South Africa were given what one Bafana Bafana-supporting friend described as a 'reality check' by Uruguay. To have any chance of making it out of the group stage, the host nation must beat crisis-hit France and hope that there is a winner in the match between Uruguay and Mexico. Even then, only one-sided scorelines would be enough.
A clinical Uruguayan display undermined the encouragement gleaned by South Africa following the euphoria of the opening ceremony and subsequent draw against Mexico. It also left Carlos Alberto Parreira with many questions to answer. Prior to the game, the Brazilian coach had spoken of the need for his side to take risks. However, there was little of that to be seen in his selection which, once again, saw Katlego Mphela deployed as a lone front man.
Parreira has been vocal ahead of the France match too, claiming that "history will talk about this game." South Africa fans will hope that, on this occasion, the hyperbole of their coach is matched by the ambition he shows in his line-up and tactics.
Ivory Coast recorded their first World Cup clean sheet against Portugal, only to then slip back into the defensive failings of their 2006 campaign versus Brazil. The Elephants have gone behind by at least two goals in four of their five games on football's biggest stage. On each occasion, they have been able to hit back but only once - a 3-2 win against Serbia and Montenegro four years ago after both teams had been mathematically eliminated - has the comeback generated anything other than consolation.
At the other end of the field, although Didier Drogba did find the net against Brazil, the Ivory Coast talisman was a peripheral figure at times, touching the ball just 17 times during the 90 minutes. With a big win required against North Korea to have any chance of a second round berth, Sven-Goran Eriksson might be tempted to freshen his attacking line-up with Gervinho, a lively substitute versus Brazil, a contender to return to the first XI.
Nigeria have two defeats but retain hopes of qualification. To achieve it, the Super Eagles must beat South Korea and hope that Argentina defeat Greece. A tense evening is in store on Tuesday but things could have been so much more straightforward for Lars Lagerback's men, had they taken advantage of the start they made against the Greeks.
Ahead through Kalu Uche's goal, Nigeria were in control before a moment of madness by Sani Kaita saw the midfielder sent off. Within 11 minutes, Greece were level and, after Chinedu Obasi missed an open goal, the Europeans scored the winner after a mistake by the otherwise excellent Vincent Enyeama, who spilled a shot into the path of Vasilis Torosidis.
Lagerback, who only took charge in February, is feeling the heat but still has a chance for redemption. Playing with nothing to lose may suit Nigeria, who surely should start the hitherto-underused Obafemi Martins against South Korea.
Cameroon, meanwhile, have just pride left to play for after falling to their second consecutive defeat, against Denmark. Things began well when Samuel Eto'o fired the Indomitable Lions ahead but the Danes hit back, with Dennis Rommedahl taking advantage of the freedom he was afforded on the right flank.
The match, which was prefaced by reports of senior players making demands of Paul Le Guen regarding his team selection, has been followed by further recriminations against the French coach. 1990 World Cup hero, Roger Milla, claims he has "insulted everyone" and it seems that his position is untenable, even though Le Guen insists he will not resign. Meanwhile, amongst all the turmoil, Cameroon have another game to play, against Netherlands.