Who will be the top African nation?

It is only in recent times that African nations have risen to prominence on football’s World stage, most notably thorough their performances at the World Cup. Apart from Egypt’s participation in the 1934 tournament, it was not until 1970 when Morocco qualified for the World Cup in Mexico that this continent began to shape its World Cup history.

Zaire became the third African team to appear at the World Cup in 1974 finals but it was not until four years later in 1978, when the tournament was held in Argentina that Tunisia provided Africa with its first would cup win at the ninth time of asking.

In 1982, Africa had two representatives at the finals for the first time ever in the form of Cameroon and Algeria. Whilst Cameroon failed to win any of its three games, Algeria did win two, one of which is still remembered as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, beating Germany 2-1 but neither qualified beyond the group stage.

It was in 1986 that Morocco became the first African team to progress to the knock out stages of the World Cup where they were beaten in the round of 16 by Germany. Algeria also qualified for the tournament in Mexico but failed to recapture their form of four years earlier and failed to win a game. Their appearance in the 2010 World Cup will be their first since 1986 and they will face England, USA and Slovenia in Group C.

It wasn’t until Cameroon’s performance in Italia ’90 that the African football we have come to love was first served up. A shock 1-0 win over reigning champions, Argentina, in their opening game followed by four goals (all accompanied by his trademark corner flag dance) by Roger Milla en route to the Quarter Finals (where they were beaten by England) made Cameroon the surprise package of the tournament and made the world sit up and take notice of African football.

Cameroon flopped in 1994, picking up just one point from its three games but it was the turn of Nigeria to remind the World that African football was a force to be reckoned with. Two wins saw Nigeria top their group in the USA before being beaten in extra time at the hands of Italy. Four years later the Super Eagles repeated their efforts by reaching the last 16 in France but could not progress any further. They did perform the best of a record five African representatives in the competition.

Senegal was the surprise package in 2002 when becoming only the second African team to reach the Quarter Finals on their World Cup debut. However, just like Cameroon in 1990, an extra time defeat prevented them making the last four.

Four years ago, only Ghana of the African nations managed to progress past the group stage in Germany before failing to go any further than the last 16. However, they will be confident of improving on that effort in South Africa.

The 2010 World Cup is the first ever to be staged in the continent of Africa and a record six African teams will participate in the competition, but the question remains whether any of Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria or hosts, South Africa are capable of making an impact to the extent that an African team features in the Semi Finals for the first time.

One of the popular Fifa World Cup betting markets is who will be the top African nation in South Africa, for which, Ivory Coast is the favourite. However, having been drawn in Group G alongside Brazil and Portugal, the Ivory Coast could find themselves encountering a similar fate of four years ago when the went out at the group stage.

Even if they did finish in the top two, they would probably have to win the group to avoid playing Spain in the last 16 and for that reason it may be worth looking towards another African country to progress in the betting.

Ghana are in as equally a tough group as Ivory Coast, being drawn in Group D alongside Germany, Australia and Serbia and will have their work cut out to finish in the top two. Cameroon on the other hand has a seemingly more manageable task against the Netherlands, Japan and Denmark and finishing in the top two is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Nigeria also must fancy their chances of reaching the last 16 and whilst it may not be as group winners with Argentina also in Group B, they will be confident of overcoming both South Korea and Greece.

Cameroon and Nigeria look to harbour the best hopes of an African team doing well at the 2010 World Cup. Both have the pedigree which has seen them reach the Quarter Finals in the past but whether they are capable of going one better remains to be seen but one thing is for sure, none of the other 26 nations in South Africa can underestimate the dangers of any African opponent.

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