Contrasting fortunes for Africa’s World Cup representatives in their midweek internationals still leave up in the air the chances of the continent producing credible performances in the finals later this year.
Algeria were the only one of the five Brazil-bound teams to win on Wednesday but Ivory Coast came from 2-0 down to hold highly fancied Belgium away while Nigeria drew with Mexico in the United States. But Ghana, despite dominating their match, lost to tiny Montenegro and Cameroon were at the end of a savage second half pasting from Portugal.
African football, seeking larger representation in future World Cup finals, is becoming increasingly obsessed with being able to deliver strong performances in Brazil, especially after the 2010 finals in South Africa where only one of six teams made it past the opening round.
Ghana advanced to the quarter-finals four years ago to match the previous African best and hold the best hopes for going a step further in Brazil. But their credentials will be re-examined after losing in Podgorica where they had only themselves to blame for a 1-0 defeat after conceding a first-minute penalty which striker Dejan Damjanovic converted. The Ghanaians, in World Cup Group G alongside Germany, the US and Portugal, were caught napping as Montenegro midfielder Branko Boskovic fed Filip Kasalica from the kick-off and the forward was fouled by centre back David Addy.
Ghana wasted several good chances thereafter while winger Christian Atsu, who caused his markers all sorts of problems with his pace and trickery, and Michael Essien had shots saved. Kevin Prince Boateng missed two late chances to draw level for Ghana as Montenegro centre back Stefan Savic cleared his shot off the line before the home goalkeeper parried a stinging long-range effort by the midfielder.
An injury time strike by substitute Max Gradel allowed Ivory Coast to claw back from a two-goal deficit and grab a 2-2 draw with Belgium but the score line barely reflected the balance of power in the match. Didier Drogba came on in the second half for his 99th cap to muscle past Belgium’s defence to pull the first back for the visitors with less than 20 minutes to play and a minute into injury time, Gradel slammed in a poor clearance to bring the Ivorians level.
Cameroon were tied at 1-1 at half-time against Portugal in Leiria but pulverized after the break as they lost 5-1 in a display of shambolic defending. They conceded four goals in a disastrous 18-minute spell and will need much polishing before the World Cup, where they share Group A with the hosts.
Nigeria launched an early storm of chances against Mexico in Atlanta but lost control of the game thereafter in a goal-less draw that allowed coach Stephen Keshi to experiment with his line-up and hand a first cap to German-born defender Leon Balogun. Algeria’s success over Slovenia will come as a major morale booster for them as they recorded a rare win over European opposition.