Rainier Plahar

After much anticipation, lovers of African football will undoubtedly be hit with a sense of deja vu after the World Cup draw in South Africa. In 2006, Africa's best teams – Ivory Coast and Ghana – were thrown into the toughest groups. Ghana made it to the second round and lost to Brazil, while the Ivory Coast after some spectacular football exited in the first round largely due to inexperience and naivety. Excuses can of course be found and it is true that FIFA's system goes some way to ensuring that the first two African teams out of the hat are placed in groups containing Argentina and Brazil.

Host nation South Africa, regarded by many as the weakest of the African teams going into the World Cup, have an uphill task in scaling Group A. They open the tournament with a game against Mexico, after which they come up against Uruguay and France. No host nation has failed to get past the first round in the World Cup and South Africa will be desperate to avoid that fate. Steven Pienaar, South Africa's star midfielder was though upbeat: "On paper it's a tough group but we'll have to wait and see when the tournament starts… Our expectations are to reach the second round. We can get out of the group, Mexico play similar football to us and Uruguay too. France will be a bit of a challenge for us".

South Africa played some good football at the last Confederations Cup, though they were let down by atrocious finishing. Coach Alberto Parreira will surely take it a game at a time and if they manage to gain a positive result against Mexico, spurred on by colourful Vuvuzela hooting fans, they might be in the tournament a bit longer than many expect.

When Pele predicted Nigeria could reach the semi-finals of the showcase tournament, some fans felt they might not even qualify. Nigeria face familiar foes Greece and Argentina in the first round along with the Korea Republic in Group B. Though the Super Eagles are no longer the high flying team they used to be, second place in this group is not at all beyond them. Some Nigerian fans already feel some apprehension though due to the thin spread of quality in the current squad.

Former national superstar Jay-Jay Okocha believes that Nigeria's prospects are unpredictable. "Anything can happen. So, we know that when the going gets tough, the tough get going".

“I still believe that is the good thing about Nigerian players. We can always spring up so many surprises,” Okocha concluded. Whilst the legendary playmaker has a point, it is also true that the Super Eagles are capable of springing either positive or terrible surprises. Time will tell which one it is this time round.

Algeria, who qualified by beating African champions Egypt in a playoff after finishing on equal points in their qualifying group, have been dealt a very poor hand in Group C. The North Africans proved with their win in the feisty encounter with Pharaohs that they are perfectly capable of producing results under immense pressure, but Algeria coach Rabah Sadaane echoed the sentiments of a majority of their fans when he said: "I think it's a difficult group. It's got teams with lots of experience who have big coaches like Mr Capello with England."

"USA are equally a big team, they've already confirmed that at the Confederations Cup by getting to the final against Brazil and by beating Spain. It's a group that gives England and the USA an advantage."

His statements notwithstanding, Sadaane knows he has a robust squad perfectly capable of troubling most teams on their day. The Egyptian result was no fluke and though Algeria seem to be in for one of the toughest draws amongst the African nations, with belief, perhaps The Desert Foxes can qualify from their group. If they do, they will be very difficult to break down in the knock-out round.

Ghana were the sole African team to make it out of the group stages in the last World Cup, and that group was arguably tougher than they one they currently find themselves in, Group D. However, the Black Stars are not much of a changed side since Germany 2006. Ghana remain a little over-reliant on their midfield, hardly surprising for a starting eleven that has Michael Essien, arguably the best central midfielder in the world at present.

Ghanaian fans have every reason to be extra cautious though. Germany seem to be the sure bet for first place in this group. It therefore looks like a straight battle for second place between Australia, Serbia and the Black Stars.

Ghana's Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac knows this will be tricky to navigate. The Black Stars failed to beat Australia in recent friendlies and Serbia topped a European qualifying group that included France. This mixture is one of the more balanced ones with any of the teams capable of progressing. Ghanaian football is on a high however, and with the Under-20 side newly crowned World Champions, this ensures they will arrive in South Africa with a lot of expectation upon them. The Black stars have to solve their striking problems though to have any chance of fulfilling those expectations.

In Group E, Cameroon seem to have a relatively easier group. Holland look like a sure bet for first place in this group. Cameroon, who have been described as the Germany of African football, look like they have a straight battle with Denmark. Japan are the weakest link in the group.

The only African side to ever play in the World Cup quarter-finals, the Samuel Eto'o led Cameroon will look to at least equal that record in South Africa. And they will only have themselves to blame if they fail to make it past the group stages.

Undoubtedly the strongest African team, the Ivory Coast have been unfortunate to be drawn in yet another group of death after 2006's tough proposition. Drawn with Brazil, Portugal and the unknown North Korea in Group G, the Elephants are clearly in a three horse race for qualification alongside Brazil and Portugal. Arguably the best striker in the world currently, Ivory Coast star Didier Drogba knows theirs is a stern task.

"It is going to be a challenge," Drogba said. "To make it to the final will not be easy because there are great teams like Brazil and Germany who have won the World Cup for many years. But my team-mates and I want to make history and want to change the way the world sees African football. I hope that we'll be the team that is going to go to the final and win the competition".

Fellow team-mate Yaya Toure was more modest and perhaps a little more realistic saying: "It's not going to be easy, as there are no small teams in the competition. Every team is competitive and it will be a challenge if we play teams like Brazil or Argentina. At the last World Cup we played really well in Germany, but we were unlucky because we were in a very tough group with Argentina and Holland and so went out in the first round. But I think with this kind of experience, it will be possible at South Africa 2010 to do much better. Perhaps we can make the quarter-finals and then semi-finals, this is something we can achieve."

This is the golden generation of Ivorian football and the World Cup on African soil will present them with the perfect opportunity to cement their place in history. The first match against Portugal will be ultimately decisive. But the Elephants with their skill and physical presence should be able to make it from this group as runners-up behind Brazil.

There are no easy draws for next years World Cup and most are well balanced. With their strongest qualifying batch in a long time however, the moment seems ripe for an African to move past the quarter-final stage. If the various FAs and players can steer clear of the self destructive bonus disputes that seem to bedevil African teams, if the richer and established European based stars amongst the African players put the interests of the team first and play selflessly, an African country or two can make the last four.

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