FEATURE: Africa's World Cup: Who's in, who's out
By Eddy Dove
With less than 60 days to go until the World Cup begins in Brazil, here is a round-up of the latest squad news concerning the players likely (or unlikely) to feature for Africa’s Five at the international high table.
Bear in mind, however, that a lot can change between now and the opening day of the tournament. Managers are not set to name their provisional squads until mid-May, before likely whittling them down to the final 23 at the beginning of June—approximately two weeks ahead of kick-off.
Some players may feel far away from the action at the moment—but a lot can change between now and June 12.
The major headline to come out of Algeria’s recent friendly victory over Slovenia was the successful integration of Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nabil Bentaleb and Stade de Reims defender Aissa Mandi.
Along with Faouzi Ghoulam and Saphir Taider, the North Africans are constructing an exciting crux of young players.
One young player who hasn’t found his spot in the Vahid Halilhodzic’s plans just yet is Ishak Belfodil. His decision to represent the Maghreb side over France was initially considered to be a coup, but his showings to date have been fairly lacklustre and he was overlooked for the recent friendly.
Unless his club form can improve (he is currently on loan at Livorno from Internazionale) then he might slip out of the picture altogether. The former Parma striker hasn’t found the net since December 4th.
The future is similarly pessimistic for Ryad Boudebouz—the one-time future of Algerian soccer hasn’t been called up since the Cup of Nations.
Sevilla defender Stephane Mbia missed the friendly against Portugal due to injury, but his versatility along should guarantee a spot on the plane.
The same cannot be said for Sebastien Bassong. Persistently overlooked by Volker Finke, the Norwich skipper was recently dropped by new Canaries boss Neil Adams for the club’s relegation battle with Fulham.
Considering the Indomitable Lions’ strength in depth in defence, and Bass’s struggles at club level, the World Cup may be about to pass him by.
But who will profit?
Barcelona youngster Frank Bagnack has been called up for two squads and represents the future of the national side’s defence.
Fellow wonderkids Fabrice Olinga and Jean Marie Dongou have also been in and around the squad and will await the announcement of the preliminary 30 with apprehension.
The Elephants have the most settled squad of all of Africa’s representatives, although injuries are threatening to derail their studied preparation.
Arouna Kone has been rated “doubtful” by the BBC, while his Everton team-mate Lacina Traore is in slightly better shape. The towering forward was injured on his Toffees debut and although Roberto Martinez has been making positive noises about his recovery, any showing in Brazil will be rusty at best.
The main beneficiary of these two injuries may well be Gio Sio, the Basel forward who is a favourite of Sabri Lamouchi.
When Yaya Toure went off injured against Liverpool, Ivorians everywhere looked on nervously. The news appears to be good, however, with the midfielder looking to be back in action after two weeks.
Things aren’t looking encouraging for Emmanuel Eboue. He hasn’t been called up since the Afcon and has been firmly usurped by Serge Aurier.
Marseille right-back Brice Dja DjeDje has also become a squad regular and is a versatile option for the Elephants.
Returning superstars Michael Essien, the Ayew Brothers and Kevin-Prince Boateng have changed the complexion of Kwesi Appiah’s squad and, in the process, have squeezed out some of the Black Stars’ peripheral figures.
Mohammed Rabiu’s place in the squad is under major threat and Anthony Annan’s spell outside the team could well be set to continue.
Calls for Parma youngster Afriyie Acquah to be rewarded for his fine recent form with a call-up may have to wait until after Brazil.
Essien, as well as Sulley Muntari and Majeed Waris, have all endured injury concerns, but should comfortably be recovered in time for the World Cup.
For Isaac Vorsah, the road is much less clear. The centre-back has only recently returned after a knee ligament injury and it may take a leap of faith from Appiah to include him in the World Cup 23.
While Victor Anichebe and Sone Aluko have previously been viewed as potential ‘saviours’ for the Super Eagles earlier in the season, Peter Odemwingie is the latest ‘flavour of the month’.
There is good reason for this; the former West Bromwich Albion has hit a purple patch at Stoke City and Nigeria’s attacking deficiencies have become a cause for concern.
Having apparently patched up his differences with Stephen Keshi, the expectation is that Odemwingie will get at least one occasion to impress before the squad is finalised.
Ikechukwu Uche hasn’t attempted to build bridges with the Big Boss as Osaze has and can probably begin booking his summer holiday.
Could Obafemi Martins who has scored one and set-up four since the beginning of the MLS season be a forgotten answer upfront?
Following Joseph Yobo’s aborted call-up for the Mexico friendly, the skipper has endured further injury concerns and has seen his initially-promising form nosedive at Norwich. Former Super Eagles defender Efe Sodje believes he shouldn’t be left out, but the centre-back, at this stage, represents a risky option.
Keshi’s announcement that there was no more room for “new faces” seems to end the feint claims of the likes of Lukman Haruna, Taye Taiwo and Chinedu Obasi, but gives hope of a recall to Ideye Brown, Sunday Mba and Nnamdi Oduamadi.
Nosa Igiebor has been struggling with injury since mid-February.