Galatasaray’s Drogba among African stars eyeing World Cup

Galatasaray’s Drogba among African stars eyeing World Cup

JOHANNESBURG - Agence France-Presse
Galatasaray’s Drogba among African stars eyeing World Cup

Galatasaray’s Drogba celebrates scoring against Juventus. Drogba will wear his Ivory Coast uniform and seek place in 2014 World Cup with his team during this weekend’s African play-offs. AP photo

Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Asamoah Gyan, John Obi Mikel and Jonathan Pitroipa are among the stars seeking 2014 World Cup places when the African play-offs begin this weekend.

Striker and skipper Eto’o has changed his mind about retiring, giving Cameroon a timely boost before tackling Tunisia in Rades.

Many Ghana goals come from captain-cum-attack spearhead Gyan and Egypt will afford him time and space in Kumasi at their peril. After ending a 185-match English Premier League goal drought, Nigeria midfielder Mikel hopes to make the net bulge against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.

Voted the best 2013 Africa Cup of Nations footballer, wide attacker Pitroipa expects his service to set up a victory for Burkina Faso over Algeria in Ouagadougou.

The play-offs comprise five home-and-away ties with the overall winners qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

And if Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria succeed, the same five African countries who qualified for the 2010 tournament in South Africa will make it again.

South Africa also competed in the highly acclaimed first World Cup hosted by Africa, but as hosts having been exempted from qualifying.

Ivorian coach Sabri Lamouchi recalled 32-year-old Liverpool defender Kolo Toure, older brother of Manchester City midfielder and reigning African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure.

Senegal continue to omit Demba Ba because he is not playing regularly for Chelsea, but off-form fellow striker Papiss Cisse of Newcastle returns after a one-match suspension.

The other Saturday showdown pits rising Burkina Faso against resurgent Algeria with France-based flier Pitroipa desperate to prove second place at the 2013 Africa Cup was no fluke. Dismissed pre-tournament as cannon fodder, the Burkinabe shocked Ghana en route to a final where they took champions Nigeria to the wire.

Portugal-based Islam Slimani is among the leading qualifying competition scorers with five goals and a scoring streak in Germany earned Mohamed Amine Aoudia a call-up.

Tunisia hope history does not repeat itself Sunday as they lost home and away to Cameroon in a 1990 World Cup play-off.

Dutch coach Ruud Krol takes charge for the first time and devising a plan to shackle recent Chelsea signing Eto’o must be a priority.

Rising hopes

Cameroon has lost midfielder Stephane Mbia to injury, but the return of Eto’o offers hope of a record seventh World Cup appearance by an African country.

Mikel is part of a full-strength Nigeria side that arrives in Addis Ababa only on the eve of the Sunday showdown to escape the worst effects of the 2,300-metre (7,550 feet) altitude. Coach Stephen Keshi is wary of outsiders Ethiopia. “We do not have underdogs in Africa. Ethiopia have the same opportunity to play at the World Cup.” He also dismissed a 2-0 win over them at the Nations Cup, saying: “You must not talk about the past in African football -- January is a long time ago.”

A blow for Ethiopia, who beat South Africa to reach the play-offs, is the absence of injured Getaneh Gibeto, leaving Saladin Ahmed to shoulder the attacking burden.

Ghana host Egypt only next Tuesday and after losing injured centre-backs John Boye and Jonathan Mensah, hope midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng recovers from a knee problem. Egypt’s team includes 11 stars from African club champions Al-Ahly, including playmaker Mohamed Abou Trika, who craves a first World Cup appearance in the twilight of his career.