Home advantage will boost African teams during 2010 SWC

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pretoria - Home advantage will give an added boost to the six African teams who qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup - the first to be held on African soil, writes Nthambeleni Gabara.

South African fans are eagerly awaiting the referee's first whistle to signal the official kick-off of the highly anticipated match between Bafana Bafana and Mexico on June 11.

But going into the battlefield, at Soccer City, Bafana will be comforted by the sounds of the blaring vuvuzelas and the display of the national colours and flag.

This tournament, will be crucial, not only for the host team, but Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Algeria, Nigeria and Ghana,, to prove their worth on the international football stage.

But an additional sweetener will be the total prize money, which has risen to $420 million, a 60 percent increase on the 2006 tournament in Germany.

While European based players like Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Steven Pienaar (Everton) and Samuel Eto'o (Inter Milan) are fan favourites, supporters will be looking at local stars like Siphiwe Tshabalala and Teko Modise to dazzle the crowd and show off their fancy footwork.

All these five African teams will not be appearing on the international soccer stage for the first time.

South Africa, who have come a long way since being banned by FIFA in 1962 as part of international sanctions against apartheid South Africa to being the host of a World Cup, made their World Cup debut in France in 1998. They also qualified in 2002, but failed to get past the group stages.

While their soccer prowess has been lacklustre in recent years, a home advantage may prove a winner for the 1996 African Cup of Nations champions.

During last year's Confederations Cup, Bafana finished in fourth place, coming through the group stages with a win over New Zealand and a draw with Iraq.

They then lost in the semi-finals to Brazil, conceding a late free-kick after holding the South Americans at bay for most of the match. In the 3rd-place play-off, they lost to Spain after extra time, despite leading 1-0 at one stage. But despite their loss, even the sceptics were impressed by their great display of football.

World Cup winning coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, is already shaping and preparing the team in his native Brazil.

Recently, the Super Eagles (Nigeria) showed off their readiness for the showpiece when they appointed former Sweden coach Lars Lagerback as their new coach to lead them to the World Cup.

The Super Eagles, who reached the World Cup for the first time in the 1994 were within one minute of qualifying for the Quarter finals against Italy, but Roberto Baggio scored to take the game to extra time before eventually scoring the winning goal.

They returned to the World Cup in 1998 alongside Cameroon, Morocco, Tunisia, and South Africa. Their hopes of surpassing their 1994 performance were shattered after a 4-1 loss to Denmark.

The 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan saw Nigeria again qualify with optimism. Nigeria's second game against Sweden saw them take the lead but, they lost 2-1 and there was little consolation when they drew 0-0 with England and bowed out in the first round.

The Nigerians, who missed out on qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, finished third in the recent African Nations Cup in Angola.

Cameroon or The Indomitable Lions is Africa's most successful side. They have qualified for the FIFA World Cup more than any other African nation; in 1982, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010.

They were the first African team to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup in 1990 losing to England in extra time.

A nine man Cameroon shocked the world by defeating reigning champions Argentina 1-0 with a goal scored by Omam Biyick.

They later defeated Romania 2-1 and lost to the Soviet Union 4-0, becoming the first African side to finish top of their group..

In the second round Cameroon defeated Colombia 2-1 with Roger Milla scoring two goals in the extra time.

The 1994 World Cup in the USA, after a convincing 2-2 draw with Sweden, the Indomitable Lions were determined to make an impact. However a 3-0 loss to Brazil and a 6-1 loss to Russia effectively ended their hopes of glory.

Despite drawing with Chile and Austria during the 1998 World Cup, a 3-0 defeat to Italy saw Cameroon finish bottom of the group, and they were eliminated as a result.

Another African powerhouse, Ivory Coast, will be appearing for the second time at the FIFA World Cup, following their first appearance in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

They lost 2-1 to both Argentina and Netherlands; and were thus eliminated from the tournament. The Elephants are currently the only team without a head coach.

Ghana were the only African side to advance to Round 2 of the 2006 FIFA World Cup after Ivory Coast, Togo, Angola, and Tunisia were all eliminated.

Because of Ghana's performances in the tournament, there has been continuous praise for their fearless attitude towards the world's soccer giants.

Of the 32 countries that participated in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Ghana was ranked 13th by FIFA.

Algeria managed to qualify to two consecutive World Cups in 1982 and 1986. Algeria beat North African rivals Egypt in a World Cup qualification tiebreaker to secure a place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But whether the teams lose in front of their home crowd they would have wanted to leave an indelible mark on the minds of their supporters.