Sports

Africa’s Difficult World Cup Draw

17 December 2005 at 11:58 | 1062 views

By Abu B. Shaw, Vanguard London Bureau Chief.

A World Cup draw, like any situation in this discipline, is normally a
one group-of-death affair. What is exceptionally different this time is that
the Germany 2006 World Cup draw has two groups of death. Unfortunately for
Africa two of its World Cup virgins, Ghana and Ivory Coast, are drawn in
these deadly groups. Groups C & E are the toughest groups in next summer’s
football bonanza.

The World Cup draw was held on Friday December 8 in the German city of
Leipzig. Sports officials of Ghana’s Black Stars and the Elephants of Ivory
Coast were terribly shocked when these two West African teams were pitched
against countries widely tipped to be the strong favourites to go through
effortlessly. And with the requisite strength the African opponents possess,
they are expected to sail all the way to the grand finale and even win the
18 carat golden trophy.

In Group C, the first group of death, the Elephants of Ivory Coast has to
contend with twice World Cup winners Argentina and former European champions
Holland. The new European heavyweight Serbia & Montenegro completes the lot.
The Argentines have the best collection of young talents namely Raquelme,
Sorin of Spanish side Villareal and English Champions Chelsea’s Hernan
Crespo among others. The Orange Boys of Holland have a galaxy of players
like Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistlerooy and stopper Edwin van der
Sar who captains the Netherlands.

The Elephants of Ivory Coast can also boast of foreign based professionals.
Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and Arsenal defender Kolo Toure are among the
high profile players to parade in Germany 2006. The Ivorian French coach,
Henri Michel, confirmed after the draw that his team is in a very tough
group.

The opening match in Group C is between Argentina versus Ivory Coast on
Saturday June 10 at the AOL Arena Stadion (capacity 51,055) in Hamburg. The
Holland versus Ivory Coast match takes place on Friday June 16 at the
Gottlieb Daimler Stadion (capacity 54,267) in Stuttgart. The final encounter
for the Ivorians is on Wednesday June 21 at the Allianz Arena Stadion
(capacity 66,016) in Munich against a very formidable side Serbia &
Montenegro. Argentina was an obvious seed in Group C.

Group E is the second group of death. It involves new comers the Black Stars
of Ghana, World Cup winners Italy, the Czech Republic and the USA. Ghana has
an array of stars plying their trade abroad. England’s most expensive
midfielder Michael Essien, 24, of Chelsea and defender John Kuffour of
Italian giant Roma and so on, are the foundation on which the Black Stars
depend.

Italy has many professionals who are capable of turning Group E upside down.
From Roma’s Francesco Totti, Juventus Alexandra del’ Piero, AC Milan’s
midfield maestro Gattuso to Inter Milan’s striker Christian Vieri the list
goes on for Italy. As for the Czech Republic, their influential captain
midfielder Pavel Neved of Juventus, Milan Baros (highest goal scorer in Euro
2004 in Portugal) of English outfit Aston Villa FC, Chelsea’s acrobatic goal
keeper Petr Cech among others, indicate the Herculean task facing opponents
in this group of death.

This group kicks off on Monday June 12 with Ghana taking on the Italians at
the AWD Arena Stadion (capacity 44,652) in Hanover. On Saturday June 17 at
the Rhein-Energie Stadion (capacity 46,120) in Cologne, the Black Stars will
slug it out with the Czechs in another tough clash. Then Ghana’s final
decider will be held at the Franken Stadion (capacity 41,926) in Nuremberg
on Thursday June 22 when they battle it out with an American side featuring
incidentally the youngest best talent from the shores of Ghana. Adu, 18, who
plays for American side DC United, was brought to the USA ten years ago. Adu
made it clear when Ghana qualified for the World Cup that he would prefer to
play for the USA than Ghana, his country of origin.

Ghanaian captain Stephen Appiah highlighted the difficulty of Group E. He
said that every team will be difficult to play but Ghanaians like difficult
challenges like this and optimistically noted: “We can take them seriously.”
But Italian football legend, Paolo Rossi, who was released from prison
shortly before the 1982 World Cup finals in Italy, noted that Italy and the
Czechs are the strongest teams in Group E. Rossi won the cup for his country
in 1982 and became the highest goal scorer that year.

Angola, another African World Cup virgin, was put in the same bracket as
their former colonial master Portugal. Others in the group are Mexico and
Iran. Group D debut match between Angola and Portugal makes it even more
interesting when one takes in to account how the last encounter between
these two countries ended. Despite being a friendly match in 2001, Portugal
and Angola could not finish that encounter because the tension that took
over between the two resulted to four Angolan players being sent off. The
match was abandoned in accordance with FIFA rules which say that a football
match can be called off if up to four players are red carded in a match.

Angola’s first match in Group D will be against Portugal on Sunday June 11
in Cologne. Their next fixture will see Angola facing crack side Mexico on
Friday June 16 in Hanover. On Wednesday June 21, the southern African side
Angola will take on Iran at the Zentral Stadion (capacity 44,199) in
Leipzig. Mexico was seeded in this group.

In Group G, where another African virgin Togo is drawn, it was good news for
the Togolese head coach Stephen Keshi who surprisingly expressed delight for
the draw which also includes the 1998 World Cup winner France, 2002 World
Cup semi-finalist South Korea and another crack side Switzerland.

The Hawks of Togo opens Group G with a difficult match against South Korea
on Tuesday June 13 at the Wald Stadion (capacity 48,132) in Frankfurt. The
former Nigerian skipper Stephen Keshi’s Togo will entertain Switzerland on
Monday June 19 at the Westfalen Stadion (capacity 66,981) in Dortmund. The
West African side Togo will clash against France on Friday June 23 in
Cologne in their final match. France was also seeded.

Tunisia, the only African 2006 qualifier to have played in the World Cup
finals, was pitched in Group H with revitalised Spain, Saudi Arabia and
World Cup first timer Ukraine. The North African state of Tunisia, who have
never past the first round of this competition, have a host of football
stars namely Jahid of English premiership Bolton Wanderers and defender
Trabelsi of Ajax Amsterdam. Ukraine’s Andri Shechenko of AC Milan fame is a
big plus for Ukraine. The Spanish side is the envy of this group as they
have stars upon stars like Real Madrid’s captain and striker Raul Gonzales
and Barcelona’s captain and defender Puyol to name a few.

Tunisia takes on Saudi Arabia on Wednesday June 14 in Munich. They lock
horns with Spain on Monday June 19 in Stuttgart. Tunisia’s last game is
slated for Friday June 23 at the Olympic Stadion in Berlin against Ukraine.
Spain was seeded in this group.

Twelve German cities have been allocated to hosting the 32 nations. They are
divided in eight groups. Each group consists of four countries. The other
groups are Group A which includes the host Germany, Costa Rica, Poland and
Ecuador. Group B, which is considered the weakest group, is made of England,
Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago and Sweden.

Defending champions Brazil is the only country to have qualified in all
World Cup competitions since 1930 when it was first hosted in Uruguay. In
Germany 2006, Brazil is drawn in Group F against Croatia, Australia and
Japan.

Brazil is hot favourite to lift the World Cup. But Pele, whose real name is
Edson Arante dos Nascimento, told the press in London recently that he does
like his country Brazil to be tagged as favourite because favourites seldom
win competitions. Pele was in London to collect his BBC sports award for the
greatest footballer ever.

The grand finale of the 2006 World Cup in Germany will be held on Sunday
July 9 at the Olympic Stadion in Berlin.

Photo: The Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire

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