As written by ESPN popular African Writer Firdose Moonda
Three of Africa’s top ten countries are headed to the 2014 World Cup as the continent puts its best foot forward in the hope of a maiden global title. Top-ranked Ivory Coast, fourth-placed Nigeria, who are also current African Nations Cup champions, and tenth-placed Cameroon, who will appear at the World Cup for a seventh time, are all through to football’s showpiece event.
On reputation, Cameroon’s confirmation of their flights to Brazil would seem a routine occurrence; the Indomitable Lions have played in six of the last eight tournaments and have, and had, some of the Africa’s most admired footballers in their ranks.
Roger Milla is arguably the most globally appreciated of the lot. He defied age to shoot Cameroon into the quarterfinals in 1990 and turned the corner flag into a memorable dance partner. Samuel Eto’o will attempt to emulate Milla — a man he calls his hero — in Brazil. Naturally, parallels between the two men will be drawn and they reveal a startling number of similarities.
Eto’o will be five years younger than Milla was at his World Cup, 33 rather than 38, but he has already come out of retirement, just as Milla did, to play for the national team. Both men have made more than 100 appearances for the national team — Eto’o’s 112 is already 10 more than Milla’s 102 — and will grow beyond that, and both have a relationship with the country’s largest port city Douala.
Milla, who had a nomadic childhood because of his father’s job, signed for his first league club, Eclair, in Douala at the age of 13. He won his first league title when he was 18 years old with another club from that city, Leopard de Douala, as well. Eto’o had not even been born by then.
It was only 11 years later that baby Samuel was born in Douala into a family that could be considered middle-class. His father was an accountant. Their paths first crossed in metaphorical sense. When Eto’o was a youngster, he was nicknamed “little Milla” and considered it a sign that he was special. “It was an honour to have the name, he was an inspiration,” Eto’o said.
Eto’o watched Milla while he grew up and tried to emulate his creative goal-scoring techniques. He also, probably unwittingly, adopted some of the legacy that followed Milla in that he is not widely liked by his teammates, who Eto’o claimed even refused to pass the ball to him during the first leg match against Tunisia. Milla’s recall was not welcomed by everyone and some of his teammates in 1990 thought the team should learn to do without him.
Some seem to think that of Eto’o too, but it’s difficult to argue that a man of Eto’o’s calibre, even with the divisive element, can be overlooked. He has notched up enough of his own records to have surpassed Milla many times over but there is one competition in which Eto’o remains in his idol’s shadow: the World Cup.
Cameroon have exited at the group stage in every competition Eto’o has participated in. The way they played against Tunisia suggests they may be able to better that. They were emphatic in their 4-1 win, overcoming the personality problems that have plagued them thus far and sending the message that they will be ready for bigger challenges in Brazil.
Both Ivory Coast and Nigeria had already showed that in the first leg. The Didier Drogba-headlined Mighty Elephants are the dominant force on the continent, despite not having won a Nations’ Cup in 21 years and booked their places after an almost heart-stopping encounter against Senegal.
Having gone into the match 3-1 up, Ivory Coast appeared a little too relaxed in the opening exchanges. Senegal had two chances in the first half: Dame Ndoye’s header had to be cleared by Drogba and Ndoye also teased Boubacar Barry with a free kick from a tight angle. They started the second period in equally aggressive fashion. Papiss Cisse had a close-range effort which was blocked by Barry’s foot.
Senegal’s sustained efforts on goal eventually saw Drogba bring down Sadio Mane in the box and a penalty was awarded. Moussa Sow beat Barry to give Senegal a realistic chance of reaching Brazil but Salomon Kalou had the last say when he drilled the ball past
Bouna Coundoul to make it 1-1 and ensure Ivory Coast’s golden generation will have a chance at global glory.
Nigeria will be eyeing the same. They have already made big strides under coach Stephen Keshi, whose romance in the role is growing. He became only the second man in Africa to win the African Nations Cup as a player and a coach and will now look to turn that into a meaningful bit of trivia in relation to the World Cup. Keshi captained Nigeria the first time they appeared in a World Cup in 1994, where the topped the group and narrowly missed out on a quarterfinal spot.
The Super Eagles finished off a qualifying campaign in which they conceded only four goals in eight matches with a 2-0 win over Ethiopia. The East Africans remain convinced the referee Bakary Papa Gassama played a decisive role when he penalised defender Aynalem Hailu for a handball and Victor Moses converted the spot kick.
Nigeria doubled that tally as the game drew to its conclusion to ensure Africa’s most populous country will be represented in Brazil. Joining them will be two from Burkina Faso, Algeria, Ghana or Egypt.
Burkina Faso have a 3-2 advantage over Algeria and will be on the defensive in Blida but Algeria remain the favourites to qualify. If both them and Ghana, who lead Egypt 6-1, book places in Brazil, Africa will field the same five teams who played in 2010.