Pele is often reminded of his prediction that an African side would win the World Cup by 2000, and the Brazilian’s remark is likely to be scrutinised again and again this summer as the tournament finally arrives on African soil.
So are there any signs that Pele’s prediction will only be ten years out? Anyone who caught the African Cup of Nations in January is likely to be less than convinced.
Egypt were far superior than their opponents and deserved winners, yet they won’t even be in South Africa, and Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon again flattered to deceive.
But one ray of light came in the shape of a young and exciting Ghanaian side, who lost narrowly in the final despite missing their big-name players for much of the tournament.
Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari, John Pantsil and John Mensah form the crux of this Ghana team, yet all were missing for much of the tournament in Angola. It left manager Milovan Rajevac with no choice but to form a side around many of the 2009 under-20 World Cup-winning squad members – and their boundless energy saw off Nigeria on their way to the final.
But with doubts lingering over the fitness of Essien, Appiah and Mensah, boss Rajevac recently described a football World Cup squad without the trio as a “dire situation”, and it’s hard to disagree. For all the advantages of youthful vigour during a period where up to seven games can be played in four weeks, nothing quite beats experience – as the two finalists in 2006 proved.
Ghana were the only African side to make it past the group stages four years ago, and much of that was down to the inspirational performances of both Essien and Appiah in the engine room, who were exceptional in wins over Czech Republic and USA.
If both are fit and playing alongside Ghana’s young gems, such as Marseille’s Andre Ayew and Udinese’s Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Ghana are a good outside bet to improve on their last 16 spot in 2006. Without their two midfield generals, however, they’ll find it hard to get anywhere near to fulfilling Pele’s African prophecy this time round.