Areas for Improvement Following Africa's WC Qualifying Play-Offs
This article looks at areas of improvement, or areas of change, for five African nations following the first leg of CAF’s World Cup play-offs.
This piece considers both short-term changes teams can make in order to consolidate their position or retrieve a tie ahead of the next round of games in November, but it also looks further ahead and considers how certain teams can begin to turn around a long-term decline in fortunes.
Nigeria: The Third Man
Apart from Ghana, and possibly the Cote d’Ivoire, none of Africa’s 10 would-be qualifiers are in a better position than Nigeria.
The Super Eagles entered the cauldron of Addis Ababa, facing the altitude, the atmosphere and the plucky Ethiopians, and escaped with a win. By the end of the contest you could almost smell Brazil.
Despite their encouraging victory, Stephen Keshi’s men struggled for much of the contest. Nnamdi Oduamadi, so impressive at the Confederations Cup before injury struck, looked particularly off the pace and was not at all convincing as part of the midfield three alongside John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi.
During the summer, he excelled as part of the forward line, but here, there are numerous players ahead of him in the pecking order to claim one of the wider berths. Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa currently hold the initiative, while calls are intensifying for Sone Aluko to be given his chance.
Oduamadi will need to impress for Brescia, where he is on loan, in order to take a starting spot next summer.
His failings in the midfield also open the door for another player to come into the team alongside Mikel and Onazi. With Fegor Ogude a little too clunky and Sunday Mba wholly absent since his delightful contribution at the Cup of Nations, this could be an interesting contest over the coming months.
Real Betis man Nosa Igiebor might target the return leg against Ethiopia as a reasonable point from which to continue to resurrect his international career, while Lukman Haruna, despite his attitude deficiencies, could be reintroduced to provide energy and stability.
Algeria: Utilising Adlene
Algeria’s immediate World Cup destiny remains in their own hands.
They were unfortunate in suffering a 3-2 defeat to Burkina Faso away in Ouagadougou, but driven by a desire to return to the world stage, and a sense of injustice at the harsh penalty that was given against them on Saturday, they are perfectly capable of turning things around next month.
For the second leg, in Blida on November 19, I recommend that Algeria begin with Adlene Guedioura. The Crystal Palace midfielder was brought on as a substitute at the Stade du 4-Aout, only three minutes after Carl Medjani had scored to draw the North Africans level.
Guedioura was the man the visitors turned to as they sought to preserve their 2-2 draw. However, I believe that the Desert Foxes would benefit from using him from the start.
Guedioura is a complete midfielder; he has power, pace and can strike a ball superbly. Against the physical Burkinabe, he has the presence to anchor the midfield, to drive Algeria forward and to win the important contests in the centre of the park.
It could be that the former Nottingham Forest man is the difference between Algeria replicating their achievement in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, and Burkina Faso making it to their maiden international tournament.
Cote D’Ivoire: Personnel in the Heart of the Defence
Didier "Maestro" Zokora may have impressed against Senegal and looks like a central component of Sabri Lamouchi’s thinking, but it remains to be seen whether he is the best man to partner Sol Bamba in the heart of the Elephants defence.
Nominally a defensive midfielder, Zokora may struggle next summer should he be pitted against one of the globe’s elite forwards, particularly a physical specimen who will look to dominate the aerial battles.
Against the Senegalese forwards in the second leg, as the Lions of Teranga hunt for goals, Zokora will have the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his finely tuned anticipation.
The spectre of Kolo Toure, one of the Golden Generation's more visible characters, looms large.
It is important that he is not alienated from the first XI, as he could prove to be valuable next summer should the Zokora experiment fall apart. The Senegal clash could be a good opportunity for Lamouchi to reintegrate the Liverpool man and assess his defensive options ahead of the tougher tests to come.
Egypt: Frayed Edges
News that Egypt will stick with Bob Bradley despite their remarkable capitulation at the hands of Ghana is reassuring. The American boss has worked wonders since his arrival and ought to be afforded the opportunity to right the wrongs of that disastrous 90 minutes in Kumasi.
However, the Pharaohs’ leaden performance highlighted the ageing nature of the side. Perhaps now, even before the second leg, with the World Cup a forgotten dream, the North African giants ought to finally cut the remnants of their glorious side loose.
Nine of the Egypt squad that contested Tuesday’s fixture were 30 or over. Only two of the Ghana side were, and the only outfield player older than 29 was 30-year-old midfielder Michael Essien.
Were Bradley to look toward the future, the sensible option might be cutting away the fraying edges of the grand old team—yes, that might mean 38-year-old centre-back Wael Gomaa and, I have a lump in my throat as I write this, 34-year-old Mohamed Aboutrika, but that could be the only sure way of affording the team’s talented youngsters the space to develop into the new generation of national heroes.
Cameroon: Watercolourists in the Desert
The Indomitable Lions’ problem is clear for all to see—their creativity is limited.
During the weekend’s clash with Tunisia, the strikers (Samuel Eto’o and Pierre Webo) were supported by four defensive midfielders.
Regardless of what Alex "Picasso" Song thinks of himself, he is not the man to unpick the North Africans’ defence, let alone the sturdy opposition likely to be encountered next summer. His compatriots, Enoh Eyong, Jean Makoun and Joel Matip, offer steel and endeavour, but little offensive guile.
The African giants need to find a way around this issue ahead of the second leg in Yaounde, particularly with more onus on them to attack.
One solution could be the employment of Eto’o in a deeper role. The former Barcelona man operated more creatively at Anzhi, often delivering impressive performances behind a target man such as Lacina Traore.
It may be that at the expense of any better options, Eto’o might be the only man to effectively link the midfield and the attack—after all, Achille Emana isn’t getting any younger.
Finally, an answer could be found on the wings.
Allan Nyom performed manfully as an attacking right-back against Tunisia, his occasional forays forward momentarily perturbing his opposite number. Could a return to the side for Benoit Assou-Ekotto change the complexion of the team?
While his stock may have fallen since Andre Villas-Boas arrived at White Hart Lane, Disco Benny’s talents haven’t deserted him overnight. With the QPR man stretching the pitch down the left-hand side, and Nyom performing similar duties on the right, Cameroon could broaden their playing area and give their limited midfielder players more time to operate offensively.
Although I’m sure Emana would appreciate the call.