Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria book Brazil tickets; Two African playoffs remain
With three playoff series concluded and one all but decided, the contingent of African teams that will head to Brazil next year is nearly set. And from the looks of it, that contingent will be fairly strong -- the three teams that qualified over the weekend now have a combined 15 World Cup appearances between them.
But this is Africa, which means there's almost always going to be a surprise or two. Four of the past five World Cups have seen a team from the continent make its World Cup debut, and 2014 could make it five of six (an expanded tournament and more bids for CAF teams can be thanked for this).
Let's take a look at the qualified teams and the playoffs that remain.
The Indomitable Lions advanced to its seventh World Cup on Sunday, the most appearances in the tournament by any African team. Cameroon secured their qualification with a solid 4-1 win over Tunisia at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaounde.
Cameroon's qualification is no real surprise -- besides their past successes, they also steamrolled their way through qualifying, winning five of their eight matches and losing only once. Their qualification will go a long way toward helping fans forget a disastrous 2012 in which they failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations and star striker Smauel Eto'o briefly retired from the team due to issues with the national federation. Now, with Eto'o back in the fold, Cameroon will be heading to Brazil.
The golden generation of west Africa's Elephants will have another chance to advance beyond the group stage of the World Cup. Like Cameroon, the Ivory Coast were a standout side throughout qualifying, going undefeated through eight games and securing their ticket to Brazil with a 4-2 aggregate win over Senegal.
No matter what happens in Brazil, it will likely be the last go-round for some of the important players that have led the previously-unheralded nation to international soccer prominence. Chief among them: Didier Drogba, who will be 36 when the World Cup rolls around and has developed into a national hero for Ivorians. Also among the 30-and-older group are the Touré brothers (midfielder Yaya and defender Kolo) as well as the nation's most-capped player, 32-year-old defender Didier Zokora. The team's mission will be simple enough: advance past the group stage for the first time ever.
Nigeria kept their happy 2013 rolling this weekend, as they qualified for the World Cup thanks to a 4-1 aggregate win over surprise package Ethiopia in their playoff. The Super Eagles captured the African Cup of Nations earlier this year, and went undefeated through their qualifying campaign.
Though they have won more U-17 World Cups than any other nation, Nigeria has struggled to make an impact in the senior tournament. The farthest they have gotten is the round of 16, with their last appearance in that round coming in 1998, when they lost 4-1 to Denmark. This Nigeria squad isn't stocked with well-known names, outside of Chelsea's Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel and defender Joseph Yobo.
Egypt vs. Ghana
When: Tuesday, 11 a.m. ET
Where: Cairo, Egypt
First leg result: Ghana won 6-1
TV (U.S. only): Live on BeIn Sport
You've heard plenty from us here at SI about American coach Bob Bradley and his adventures in charge of the Egyptian national team. The squad went into their matchup with continental power Ghana on the brink of qualifying for their first World Cup since 1990, and at a time when the country itself is wracked with political turmoil.
Unfortunately for the Egyptians, those hopes were all but extinguished in a 6-1 rout in their playoff's first leg. Egypt will now need a miraculous performance in Cairo to have any hope of going through.
However, fact of the matter is that Ghana is one of if not the strongest team in all of Africa, with Michael Essien, Kevin Prince-Boateng, Sulley Muntari, and Asamoah Gyan among the quality players the Black Stars will be counting on should they make it to Brazil. The team is also responsible for one of the best performances by an African team at a World Cup, as they made the 2010 quarterfinal where they lost to Uruguay on penalty kicks.
Algeria vs. Burkina Faso
When: Tuesday, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Blida, Algeria
First leg result: Burkina Faso won 3-2
TV (U.S. only): Live on BeIn Sport
Ranked 89th in the FIFA World Rankings a year ago, Burkina Faso has been the ultimate surprise package out of Africa this year. The landlocked nation didn't just make a surprising run to the final of the African Cup Of Nations (where they lost 1-0 to Nigeria and defeated Ghana on penalties along the way), but they carried that momentum into World Cup Qualifying. An appearance in the World Cup would be the first ever for Burkina Faso, while if Algeria qualifies along with Ghana the African field will be just as it was in 2010, with the exception of the then-host South Africa. Algeria finished at the bottom of their World Cup group in 2010, with their biggest result a scoreless draw with England in Cape Town.