Africa's World Cup struggles so far
Oh, to be African.
So far at the World Cup, being African means being tinged with disappointment. With only one victory from the first round of group matches, Africa is the worst performing region in terms of the number of defeats at the tournament. The Big Five are endangered, and rescuing them is going to be tough.
Let's start with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, who may soon have to put in a performance that justifies their moniker. The weather in Manaus may be the only thing on Cameroon's side, with hot, humid conditions putting off European sides, but the African team will need more than a steam bath to melt Croatia, especially as they have striker Mario Mandzukic back from suspension.
Worse still, Cameroon could be without the leader of the pack. Samuel Eto'o carried a knee injury during the latter stages of the Premier League season that has not healed. As a result, his tournament may be over already. He is unlikely to face Croatia, and if Cameroon's last match is purely academic, he may give himself the time he needs to recover before next season.
The latest is that he has traveled with Cameroon despite irritating team officials by posting on Twitter that he likely won't play because of his knee problem.
Les Elephants of Ivory Coast have at least got off to a winning start, but they will now be under even more pressure to keep it going. As the only victor from the continent, hopes will be pinned on them. They demonstrated strength and energy against Japan but will now meet a Colombian team on a high. Ivory Coast will have to keep their heads to avoid turning their last match into a must-win.
Nigeria's Super Eagles do not have that luxury. Their crunch time will come on Saturday when they face Bosnia. Should their profligacy in front of goal continue, an early exit is in the cards. With Argentina their last opponent, hopes of progressing look slim.
Stephen Keshi's side may also be distracted by goings-on at home, where the World Cup was marred by violence on Tuesday. A suicide bomber denoted explosives outside a shop in the northern Yobe state where people had gathered to watch the match between Brazil and Mexico and killed at least 21 people. The terrorist threat in Nigeria has meant public screenings of World Cup matches is banned, and although fans will remain loyal to their team, no one can blame Nigerians if some of their World Cup enthusiasm has wavered.
Ghana's World Cup hopes were dimmed by an opposition they were confident of beating in a group that will only get trickier. It's bad enough that Ghana lost to the U.S. -- the team they dumped out of the last two World Cups -- but they also conceded in the first minute, which spoke volumes regarding their vulnerability.
There are reports -- swiftly denied by Ghana -- of a player revolt, and the dressing room does not seem harmonious, especially regarding coach Kwesi Appiah. One of their most recognisable players, Kevin-Prince Boateng, admitted to being surprised at being left out of the starting 11, and if the rift deepens, Ghana may struggle to get themselves up to play a German side that is already looking like the team to beat.
Fans of Algeria's Fennec Foxes would be satisfied with their team scoring their first World Cup goal in 28 years but frustrated with the defensive mindset that set in afterward. Although the North Africans look more inventive and entertaining than they were four years ago, it wasn't enough to keep Belgium from scoring two goals in 10 minutes and registering a come-from-behind win.
Algeria may feel the most bruising encounter of their group is over, but they should not take South Korea or Russia lightly. If Vahid Halilhodzic continues to feed them with ideas and the players continue to respond, they may be able to challenge for a place in the knockout round, but some would call that optimistic.
But hope is again all that Africa has, with a glass half-full draining from the bottom out. The continent's representatives did not live up to expectations in the first week of the World Cup. Slipping up so early could see the tournament over for them before it's even really begun.