Africa`s World Cup prospects hit by double blow
Durban: The first World Cup in Africa initially sparked high hopes of a credible challenge for honours from some of the continent`s top teams but a double blow has since made the likelihood of success slim.
Africa`s chances were severely dented late last year by the draw in Cape Town when almost all their six representatives were put in difficult groups.
It is a situation now exacerbated by the absence of some leading African players, which has hit their teams` chances of progressing far.
Ghana and Nigeria have lost their best player and there is doubt that the continent`s top footballer Didier Drogba will be fit to captain the Ivory Coast.
Drogba has a broken forearm and, although set to travel with his squad later this week, is far from certain of playing in next Tuesday`s match against Portugal.
His Chelsea team mates, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel, have been ruled out. Essien`s loss has been described as devastating by Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac while Obi Mikel was to be Nigeria`s` playmaker.
Added to the injury problems are the tough groups the African sides have to deal with. The Ivorians must overcome at least one of Brazil or Portugal to qualify for the next round while Cameroon face Denmark, Japan and in-form Netherlands.
Ghana`s group features Australia, Germany and Serbia, the homeland of their coach Rajevac. Algeria have been given little hope of coming through a section that features England, Slovenia and the United States.
Nigeria might have a better chance in Group B where they face Argentina on Saturday but will seek to at least beat Greece and South Korea in their next two games.
"It was not a bad draw for us and are very hopeful," said their top forward Yakubu Aiyegbeni.
Of the six African sides, hosts South Africa are the lowest ranked, only 17th on the continent, due to poor form over the last few years but they are emerging as the best African hope.
A run of 12 unbeaten matches on the back of intensive training by wily Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira means Bafana Bafana have catapulted themselves into real contenders to at least finish in the top two places in Group A.
They open the World Cup against Mexico on Friday and then meet Uruguay and France.
The squad has also been galvanised by an unexpected outpouring of national fervour after years of indifference and scepticism about the country`s ability to host the World Cup.
"The pressure from the supporters is a positive force to push us to achieve more," striker Katlego Mphela told a news conference on Monday.
African teams have competed at every World Cup since 1970, given their own qualifying berth after boycotting the preliminaries for the 1966 event in England.
Egypt did participate in the 1934 finals, playing just a single game at the tournament in France.
Africa`s best performance is the quarter-final berth achieved by the charismatic Cameroon team of 1990 and a physically powerful Senegal side in 2002.
However, Africa`s representation of six teams at the 2010 tournament is a record.