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The Empire strikes back

Cameroon and Nigeria are once again the pride of African football at the Nations Cup, swaggering into the quarter-finals and casting real doubts on the credentials of World Cup-bound Togo and Angola.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2006 16:55 IST
Reuters
Reuters
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Cameroon and Nigeria are once again the pride of African football at the Nations Cup, swaggering into the quarter-finals and casting real doubts on the credentials of World Cup-bound Togo and Angola.

Talk of a rebel wave of African teams upsetting the old order after Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal failed to qualify for Germany, have been shown to be, at best, premature.

On the strength of the group phase which ended on Tuesday, the finals in Germany will be all the poorer without Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o, midfielder Geremi and Nigeria's exciting 18-year-old John Obi Mikel.

Their two nations have so far shown the best assortment of individual talent at these finals, though Tunisia's first XI have been the slickest passing side, buoyed by their title of African champions and their four years together as a unit.

Coach Roger Lemerre's decision to play a Tunisia second XI in their final Group C game led to a salutary 3-0 defeat by the tournament's surprise team, Guinea, and an unenviable quarter-final meeting with Nigeria.

Guinea rattled up nine points with a sparkling brand of sharp footwork and lightning pace, ably orchestrated by playmaker Pascal Feindouno who also scored three times.

Feindouno is among those to have caught the eye here, though none more so than Eto'o, whose five goals and one assist propelled Cameroon to three wins in Group B.

Graceful in motion and lethal in his finishing, the Barcelona striker appears intent on single-handedly bringing home a trophy to make amends for their failure to reach the World Cup.

He has scored one of the best goals so far, a snap shot from outside the area in a hat-trick against Angola, rivalling Slim Benachour's superb 20-metre first-time shot into the roof of the net for Tunisia against South Africa.

LUCKY STRIKE

Eto'o has also lined up the cheekiest goal so far, providing the cutback for Albert Meyong Ze to backheel the ball into Togo's net.

Eto'o's strike against DR Congo, which hit the post, bounced out, struck the keeper and ricocheted back into the net, was probably the most fortuitous of the finals.

Mikel, the subject of an acrimonious tug-of-war between Manchester United and Chelsea last year, has made an instant impression on the tournament.

Saved until the last 35 minutes of Nigeria's second game, Mikel was only on for six minutes before the midfielder rifled a shot into Zimbabwe's net from the edge of the area.

Second to Eto'o in the scoring charts is Brazilian-born Francileudo Dos Santos, whose hat-trick against Zambia and goal against the South Africans sealed Tunisia's quarter-final slot after two matches.

The strikers, who include Egypt's Mido and Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, have taken predictably taken most of the plaudits.

But midfielder Stephen Appiah has been a tower of strength for Ghana and British-based defenders Kolo Toure, Bobo Balde, Talal El Karkouri and Noureddine Naybet all kept things tight at the back.

Ghana, hit hard by absentees in a final Group D game they lost 2-1 to Zimbabwe, will doubtless be a much tougher opponent in Germany, notably with midfielder Michael Essien back in the side.

The brickbats have been reserved for eliminated Togo and Angola, who now have five months to find a way of avoiding an even bigger embarrassment at the World Cup.

It can be no consolation that their meeting in a final Group B game, which the Angolans won 3-2 as they vainly chased a quarter-final slot on goal difference, has been the most exciting so far.

Joining them as the biggest flops of the tournament were undoubtedly South Africa.

Becoming the first side since the Nations Cup switched to 16 teams in 1996 to finish the tournament without any points or goals is bad enough. Coming from the nation who are hosting the 2010 World Cup made it even worse.

First Published: Feb 01, 2006 11:01 IST