On second glance, this might be the African Team to beat in the Fifa 2010 World Cup.

While this might come as a bit of a surprise, South Africa is probably the single most likely team that will still be standing by the end of the group stage of the 2010 World Cup. A product of circumstance? Perhaps not.

A connection that was often overlooked when it came to this world cup is the notion that the host team almost never gets booted out during the group stage. Germany is a good example but South Korea is an even better one. I won’t get into why this is, because I think we all agree it is a combination of the refereeing, familiarity with the conditions and most of all crowd support.

The draw against Mexico was not surprising to be honest, I would have thought South Africa would win their opener on the back of 10 straight victories in the run up to the first game against what I will admit are feeble opponents but clubs of some stature none the less. While the host factor phenomena will work its own magic, the question should remain as follows for this post “who is the best performing African side at the 2010 World Cup”. As usual a list and some analysis.

Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Algeria and South Africa are the five teams representing the continent. Incredibly Egypt managed to sucker itself out of YET another World Cup. The sad truth is, the reason South Africa makes it to the top of the list in terms of the most competitive team on the continent right now in my mind is more because of issues other teams have than South Africa’s brilliance in and of itself. A ‘few liner’ for each should clear my position.

Cameroon

While the nation might think that Eto’o is the answer to their move into the next round, think again. Eto’o’s record in knock out tournaments while playing for his national team haven’t been pretty. This is a side after all that managed to screw themselves out of qualification for wearing their home jersey instead of their away kit. The Netherlands are nearly guaranteed to progress from their group, but Denmark isn’t going to be a push over.

Nigeria

This one can be summed up in a simple three word phrase “Long Time Buck” in other words it sucks to be in a group where the Greeks aren’t giving up a goal unless you break their arm and the South Koreans have developed into a respectable footballing nation. Lets just assume Diego Maradonna isn’t a big enough idiot to screw up the group stages. I mean the rest of these assumptions are based on hypotheticals, why not that one. Right?

Algeria

Although the Algerians have defied being shot by militants in their capital and have been somewhat of a Cinderella story, I think the glass slipper seems to be a little out of striking distance for this team. Between England and the USA the group should be sealed up. Lets not forget that Slovenia all but topped their European qualification berth.


Ivory Coast

Quite the team but its too bad Drogba broke his arm. I don’t care what surgery they gave him, not even superman can regain his form and most importantly compensate for the changes in the way he will have to balance himself to do something as technical as strike the ball. You probably forgot that he is their set piece taker too. Lets be honest, it was going to be the group of death anyway and its not getting easier even if Drogba comes back. The Ivory Coast looked positively lost without him in their last encounter which was quite honestly a joke. This is the greatest injury related tragedy of the tournament, far and away.


Ghana

This team has the single greatest dependency on the one man that won’t be playing in this world cup, Essien. I just don’t see them being able to hold together the midfield without him. Lets also not forget a major difference between this WC and last, the inspired and often brilliant Appiah who will be watching from the stands this tournament. While his club form might have left something to be desired, Appiah was dynamite for Ghana and they are missing any real leaders at this stage to see them through to the next round. They are in a group of equals with Australia having established themselves as a developing footballing nation that is serious about the game and a Serbian side that is looking to put the nightmare of having lost both of its central defenders int he run up to the last world cup after topping its qualification bracket by not having conceded a single goal only to get pounded by Argentina in the absence of Vidic and co.

I should now put South Africa as a heading and tell you why they are the best thing since sliced bread. That is definitely not the case. The reason I think they will be the only ones left standing is because of the slim chances the group system is affording their continental brethren. Their positives can be summed up as follows: effective counter attack play that can catch any team off guard, home team advantage/crowd support and already having a point in the bag after the draw to Mexico.

And while I’m not saying Bafana Bafana will be lifting the cup or anything crazy like that, it is still amusing to think that they are the most likely team to produce an upset of sorts since they will probably be the only African side featuring in the group stages.

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