High expectations for African finalists

JOHANNESBURG - Africa will have a record total of six teams in Friday's draw for the World Cup finals and there are high expectations for the continent.

Five nations went through the qualification process and hosts South Africa were given an automatic berth for the first finals on African soil.

The emergence of top-class players such as Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and Michael Essien has led to the continent's increased sense of expectation.

Cameroon will be competing at an African-record sixth finals and Nigeria play for the fourth time.

Algeria and South Africa have been to two previous World Cups but the region's best hopes could rest with Ghana and Ivory Coast, who both participate for only the second time.

Brazilian great Pele and former England manager Walter Winterbottom predicted Africa would produce a World Cup winner by the end of the 20th century but the region is still waiting to get a team to the semi-finals.

The best performance by an African side has come from Cameroon and Senegal, almost 12 years apart.

Senegal created several shocks en route to the quarter-finals in 2002 while Cameroon brought a charismatic charm and a bruising bite to their run to the last eight in 1990 before bowing out in extra time to England.

Only one of the five African teams present made it beyond the group stages in Germany in 2006 and Ghana were immediately dispatched by Brazil in the first knockout round.


Repeated success for Ghana and Nigeria at junior level has suggested future potential but it has failed to materialise at senior football.

"I think this World Cup is really going to be a very important one for African football and its credibility in world football after you consider the success at junior level," said Sudan's English-born coach Stephen Constantine.

Ghana won this year's under-20 World Cup in Egypt and their senior side could be title outsiders in South Africa.

African teams are playing more frequently against the world's best countries and Germany needed a stoppage-time equaliser last week to deny Ivory Coast victory in a friendly in Gelsenkirchen.

At the Confederations Cup in June, Egypt upset world champions Italy but still failed to get past the group stages.

"We are hoping Africa will provide a winner but we already feel the continent has won by staging its first ever World Cup," said the organising committee's chief executive officer Danny Jordaan.