World Cup 2014 Qualifying Round 4 Observations

Egypt are on the brink of qualification after a 4-2 win over Zimbabwe.

Egypt are on the brink of qualification after a 4-2 win over Zimbabwe.

Cameroon’s midfield need a creative spark
Without wanting to dampen the deserved praise that Togo’s defence should receive, after they shut out group leaders Cameroon on Sunday, you can’t help but think that a player in the middle of the park with more of an eye for a pass could have broken the fort that was the Togolese goal. Starting with a midfield of Matip, Song, Makoun and Enoh (four defensive midfielders), it is no real surprise that Cameroon failed to score in Lome, with Alex Song probably the most attack minded of the four. Consistently unable to plough through the centre of the area, a more diverse approach such as playing Willie Overtoom behind the strikers would have been more productive, or perhaps employing some of the many strikers in the squad as wingers. Whilst Big Dog Samuel Eto’o was not in the team, N’Djeng and Aboubakar are certainly no donkeys, so cannot blame poor conversion for the result on Sunday. -Sam Crocker

Islam Slimani vs. Rudy Gestede (Algeria vs. Benin)

I witnessed the battle of emerging #9s in Cotonou on Sunday morning.

Standing in the green corner: Islam Slimani. I would actually like to take this blogging opportunity to publically apologize to Islam Slimani. For 10 months now, I had doubted his ability to lead the Algerian vanguard. After all, who was this awkward, gangly, scoundrel Vahid Halilhodzic has called up?

I dismissed the first bushel of goals to chance. Any player of his height could nod the teasing crosses Sofiane Feghouli and Ryad Boudebouz served. Yet slowly and persistently, Slimani kept at it, displacing the Greek SuperLeague’s top scorer (Rafik Djebbour) and staking a claim as Algeria’s principal #9.

West Ham United, Livorno, Al Ahly and Esperance are all said to be keeping tabs on the Algerian who now leads the continent in scoring during the qualification stage.

In the yellow corner: Rudy Gestede.

Born in France, Gestede is a naturalized Beninese citizen. He struggled to breakthrough the stifling youth ranks in France and opted for an early career move to Cardiff City. In the last year, he has really come into his own. He helped propel the Welsh club to promotion and has scored 2 goals in his first 2 matches in the international arena.

-Maher Mezahi

Calamitous defending and poor leadership cost Sierra Leone

The match of the round undoubtedly came in Freetown where Sierra Leone and Tunisia played out an entertaining draw in a packed-to-the-rafters 30,000-seater National Stadium which was throbbing with joie de vivre. The Leone stars played some exhilarating football at times, camped in Tunisia’s half even late in the game, but it was ultimately a mixture of poor leadership and defending which would let them down in their quest for a win which would blow the group into the air. Firstly, there was captain Ibrahim Kargbo handling the ball in the area, before proceeding to lengthily castigate callow goalkeeper Christian Caulker for his mistake, even after the penalty was converted. Pseudo-psychology should be something we are all wary of, but you can’t help but feel that the berating played some part in Caulker allowing a feeble Fakhredine Ben Youssef shot to slip through his fingers late in the 90th minute.

-Salim Masoud Said

Guinea’s sextet the foundations to a bright future

Few African sides are more entertaining to watch when they’re in sync. The Syli nationale’s 6-1 mutilation of Mozambique was a peephole into what the future may hold. Ultimately it’s near impossible that they will catch runaway leaders Egypt, but when you look at the attacking players at Michel Dussuyer’s disposal – Mohamed Yattara, Alhassan Bangoura, Salim Cisse, Ibrahima Traore, Sadio Diallo and Abdoul Camara – it’s hard not to get excited when you think of what-could-be in a few years times. Bar Traore, who has become more refined this season with VfB Stuttgart, the rest remain pell-mell, but, as they also proved during Afcon 2012 in the 6-0 thrashing of Botswana, bestowing goal difference-hurting scores doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. The name of the game, as ever, will be if they can remain more resolute defensively.

-SMS

No striker, no problem for the Pharaohs

A cohort of out-of-form out-and-out and/or injured strikers forced the laconic Bob Bradley to bravely deploy a 3-5-2 system for the Pharaohs. With Egypt’s indifferent form in the south of Africa, it was a risky move. Even though a lot of work needs to be done to cover the gaps in a porous, cumbersome defence that could encounter some savage beatings should they inevitably reach the play-offs, their attacking game seems to be fine-tuning. Thanks to their attack they’re the only team in African World Cup qualification with a 100% winning record, and that attack is reinforced by an exciting U-20 Afcon-winning team.

You get the sense that Mohamed Salah may just be the poster boy for the promising generation. Coming off the back of an impressive season with Basel, the 21-year-old, fed by the intuition of Mohamed Aboutrika, jettisoned a display of cold-blooded finishing by notching a hat-trick. Egypt by no means outplayed Zimbabwe but every time Salah got the ball his break-necking pace, skill and precision put Egypt out of sight.

-SMS

Bertrand Traoré (Algeria vs. Burkina Faso)

It irked me to no end, seeing this unknown left-footed attacking midfielder ballad across the pitch. Who was he? Surely not Alain Traore?! I had watched Burkina Faso extensively in the last year and had memorized the squad in and out; this chap was unfamiliar.

Lack of wi-fi or Internet networks at Stade Mustapha Tchaker meant that I couldn’t check a teamsheet until I got home: His name was Bertrand Traore and he was 17 years old.

The talented Burkinabe ace is on Chelsea’s books, but work permit issues have inhibited him from accumulating playing time. Paul Put’s faith in the youngster is a testament to his talent and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of him in the near future.

-MM

Senegal are beginning to look like a team

Equilibrium finally seems to have been restored in a Senegal team that often looked too top-heavy when trying to fit in as many of their superabundance of strikers as possible into the team. The Teranga Lions may not have recorded a win away to Angola but it was certainly a credible draw which they could have won with slightly tidier finishing. At AFCON 2012 the notion of a midfield seemed a foreign concept for the Senegalese, but the double pivot of Mohamed Diame and Idrissa Gueye, and the switch of Lamine Sane from right-back to the centre, has ensured liberties are no longer taken through the core. With the sagacious eye of Alain Giresse on board, you’d have to be an impudent person to suggest Senegal won’t get better.

-SMS

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