Africa’s five representatives enjoyed mixed fortunes. KickOff.com looks at who has got reason to cheer and who has reason to fear the big kick-off in Brazil next summer.
Group A: Cameroon, Brazil, Croatia & Mexico
At first glace, Cameroon’s chances of progression look pretty slim having been handed a tough-looking group containing Mexico, Croatia and hosts Brazil.
However, excluding the hosts, who one would expect to qualify in top spot, the other two sides are beatable and the draw could certainly have been a lot trickier for the Indomitable Lions.
They open against a Mexican side who endured an extremely problematic qualification experience, finishing fourth in the Concacaf Hexagon programme before having to contest a double-header against New Zealand. El Tri boast some fine individual players and have an excellent recent record for escaping the group stage. However, it is not unrealistic for Cameroon to target a victory in this opening bout.
Next up, Croatia, another side who failed to qualify automatically from their qualification group; Valtreni bested their bitter rivals Serbia in Uefa Group A, but could not overcome the Belgians and had to beat Iceland in a play-off to book their ticket to the World Cup.
Croatia’s impotent performance in the first leg, when they could only draw 0-0 in Reykjavik, will imbue Volker Finke with optimism.
A final group clash with Brazil in Brasilia, the country’s capital, is a terrifying prospect for any national side – the Indomitable Lions will have to hope that the Selecao, having already qualified, take their foot off the gas.
Don’t hold your breath, however!
Group C: Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia, Greece & Japan
Finally, after two tournaments where the Cote d’Ivoire were almost eliminated before they even kicked a ball, the Elephants have finally managed to avoid a Group of Death.
The West African nation finds itself up against Asian champions Japan, Greece and the seeded Colombia. The draw is not an easy one by any stretch of the imagination, but having faced the likes of Portugal, Brazil, Holland and Argentina in recent tournaments, Sabri Lamouchi’s men will just be delighted to have avoided the big guns.
It is imperative that the faded Golden Generation expel any complacent elements that may be lingering within the camp. This, along with fear and perceived arrogance, has been their weakness in the continental arena and they must not exit the 2014 tournament having missed a glorious opportunity to make amends for failures past.
This group provides them with ample opportunity to progress to the knockout rounds, although they must not slip up against Japan in their opening match.
Group F: Nigeria, Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina & Iran
News of the Super Eagles’ World Cup draw has been greeted with broad optimism and ebullient patriotism in Nigeria.
Having conquered the continent, Stephen Keshi and his troops fear no one and the promise of a rematch with Argentina is one that the team look set to approach with relish rather than reticence.
Many Nigerian fans will be particularly excited at the prospect of witnessing Vincent Enyeama, currently in the form of his life, attempt to once again thwart Lionel Messi. The Lille stopper delivered one of the finest performances of his career at the 2010 edition of the tournament to persistently prevent Messi from finding the net.
While Nigeria should realistically hope to join Argentina in qualifying from the group, rather than pip them to top spot, the group’s other two sides provide cause for optimism.
Bosnia boast a number of fine players, but they are World Cup debutants and one of the weaker European sides in the tournament. Iran will not be easy opponents but considering the names that could have been drawn from the Asian/American nations, they are not a bad prospect at all.
Group G: Ghana, Germany, Portugal & the USA
Unfortunately, Ghana have not enjoyed the fortune of their West African brothers and find themselves in a Group of Death that lives up to the moniker.
Germany, rife with talent, are one of the world’s finest sides and will be expected to reach the tournament’s latter stages, let alone escape the group.
Portugal, inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo, will look to follow them out of Group G. The Real Madrid forward is naturally the star of the team (and could well be the star of the tournament), but his compatriots also possess exceptional qualities and any kind of result would represent an achievement for the Black Stars.
The United States complete the set and are probably the toughest possible team that Kwesi Appiah’s men could have come up against from Pot 3.
This collection of teams presents a number of intriguing subplots; America boss Jurgen Klinsmann will be forced to duel with his countrymen, while brothers Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng will meet face-to-face on June 21.
The Black Stars will doubtless be casting envious glances over to Africa’s final representatives ...
Group H: Algeria, Belgium, Russia & the Korea Republic
While Algeria may be Africa’s least-promising team, they find themselves in one of the World Cup’s most-promising groups.
Belgium will not be an easy prospect, and ought to top the group, but compared to some of the other top seeds that the Fennecs may have encountered, they are not terrifying opposition.
The North Africans are not favourites to qualify ahead of either Russia or the Korea Republic, but neither will they fear their two other group-mates.
If Madjid Bougherra can keep things tight at the back, and if Sofiane Feghouli can channel some of his creative qualities, then Algeria could feasibly target a first-ever spot in the last 16.
They will never again get as easy an opportunity to do so.