Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana are 2014 World Cup bound
Posted Saturday, October 12 2013 at 10:00
Ivory Coast 3 Senegal 1
In his playing days, Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi did not reach the heights of Senegal trainer Alain Giresse.
The later was part of the fabled three musketeers - along with Jean Tigana and Michel Platini - that led France to Euro 1984 success, and the 1982 and 1986 World Cup semifinals.
However there can be only one winner in this one – Lamouchi. The Franco-Tunisian has showed the single-mindedness needed to thrive in critical games by dropping, and then recalling Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Gervinho into the Elephants’ side.
On the other hand, Giresse is without self-exiled Chelsea marksman Demba Ba (fallen out) and Mame Biram Diouf (injured); and doesn’t know his best eleven, otherwise he wouldn’t be leaving out Lokomotiv Moscow’s Dame N’Doye.
The Ivorians will have too much firepower for the Lions of Terranga, who only scrapped past Uganda in the previous round in a match where they hardly looked convincing against a 10-man Cranes team in the second leg of the group.
Burkina Faso 0 Algeria 0
This is the one fixture in which pedigree will determine who qualifies for a place in the Brazil 2014 finals. Losing Africa Cup Nations finalists Burkina Faso are probably the most improved side on the continent.
They will thus push Algeria’s Desert Warriors to the limit.
But I have been impressed by the resoluteness of Vahid Halihodzic’s side. 1990 African champions Algeria were one of the two most impressive sides in qualifying for the second phase, with five victories out of six matches.
A team used to getting results should weather the storm in Ouagadougou.
Ghana 2 Egypt 0
Bob Bradley’s Pharaoh’s have been one of the most impressive sides in the World Cup qualifiers thus far, but it is hard to see them bettering Ghana’s Black Stars over two legs.
A prominent feature of the Africa zone 2014 World Cup qualifiers has been the pre-eminence of team’s with European based players. Egypt and Ethiopia are the only two sides in the final phase of the qualifiers with predominantly domestically based players.
One might argue that Egypt’s Al Ahli and Zamalek players are equally adept at handling pressure cooker atmospheres. Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, players used to facing a global audience like Schalke’s Kevin Prince Boateng (out injured), AC Milan’s Sulley Muntari, Chelsea’s Michael Essien and Asamoah Gyan will emerge tops. FC Basel’s free-scoring, European Champions League-playing Mohammed Salah poses the biggest threat to the Black Stars’ chances.
Ethiopia 1 Nigeria 2
On paper, this is a no contest. Nigeria has dozens of footballers featuring for top sides all over the world, while Ethiopia’s biggest star, Saladin Said, plays for Egypt’s ENPPI. Not Al Ahly or Zamalek, but ENPPI.
Sewnet Beshaw’s Walya Antelopes are one of Africa’s most improved sides, having topped a qualification group including continental heavyweights South Africa despite losing three points to a boardroom decision. Still, Stephen Keshi’s African champions will consider the tie against them a lucky draw.