by Jordan Adams - 05/31/2006
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Football fans across the globe anticipate the day when an African nation will contend for and win the FIFA World Cup. With so much attention given to the perennial powers in South America and Europe, not much is ever expected of these smaller African nations come tournament time. However, four years ago in Korea the world witnessed first-time qualifier Senegal upset defending champion France, 1-0, and advance past the group stage of the 2002 World Cup. While it still remains that no African nation has ever made it as far as a semi-final match, the success seen then marked the day where no longer would Africa remain silent in the discussion of the world's best football nations.
Known for their highly powered offenses and explosive strikers, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) represents international football in Africa. This association organizes both the African Cup of Nations and the African Champions League. Founded in 1957, they received a guaranteed berth in the World Cup for the first time in 1970. Now, a maximum of five teams are allowed from this qualifying region. Both in 1998 and 2002, five teams represented their continent in the World Cup. This year in Germany, again, five teams will represent Africa in search of the illustrious FIFA Trophy. However, even more pressure falls on these nations because the next World Cup will be held in South Africa in 2010. Certainly, if the world can see how talented and capable Africa's teams are, the football future will be bright for this part of the world.
Four of the five African nations are first-time qualifiers, Tunisia being the only nation to compete in a prior World Cup. Of the qualifiers, the Ivory Coast is the sole representative sure to turn some heads this June. This nation, placed in Group C, the 'Group of Death,' will need all of its dynamic scoring attack if it is to send a heavy favorite home unexpectedly. While there is no shortage of talent in the group with world powers sitting atop this foursome, it would be a true mistake to overlook Africa's best.
The Ivory Coast boasts a prolific scoring attack lead by the talismanic Didier Drogba. The Chelsea striker has shown the ability to carry his team when needed, and he may well have to if they have any hopes of escaping past a loaded Group C. Arouna Kone, Aruna Dindane and Bonaventure Kalou will assist Drogba offensively, with the ability to score on anyone. Les Elephants will be one of the main wild cards of the 2006 World Cup. Head coach Henri Michel has been prone to let his fiery young guns strike with reckless abandon, making opponents aware they could fall behind in a snap of a finger.
Losing to powers Argentina and the Netherlands would be understandable for the first time representative, however the talent on this team is a massive presence and they undoubtedly will cause havoc as a newcomer to football's world stage. The Achilles heel is its defense. While the Ivory Coast boasts the duo of Arsenal's Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure, the unit sometimes loses their discipline, as do other African teams. If placed in any other group, the Ivorians would surely have enough offensive flair to make it through. However, in Group C they will need to develop a defensive swagger and control the whole field if they want to advance.
The Ivory Coast is the best scoring unit you have never heard of. They, like their African counterparts, bring a blistering style of football to Germany that will wow audiences across the globe. Whether or not that approach will fizzle against more complete teams will be a big question. Even so, Africa's emergence as the new brand of world-class football talent will be on display at the world's largest showcase this summer.