In this three part guide to the World Cup Rant looks at the teams, the stadia and most importantly the United players and connections we are likely to see in Brazil. Some are more tenuous than others! In part II we look at xx qualifying nations from Africa and North America.
Qualified: via CAF play-offs after topping Group C
Manager: Sabri Lamouchi
Former France international Sabri Lamouchi took up his first managerial post with the Ivorians in May 2012 – a surprise appointment for such an inexperienced coach. Lamouchi enjoyed a fine club career, notably with Auxere and Monaco, and then later spells in Italy with Parma and Inter.
Les Éléphants beat Senegal in the African play-offs to seal a place at a third World Cup tournament. Victory represented an undefeated campaign, after Lamouchi’s side came through a qualifying group that contained Morocco, Tanzania and Gambia.
World Cup 2014 surely represents the last chance for Cote Ivoire’s ‘Golden Generation’, with Kolo Touré, Didier Zokora and captain Didier Drogba all likely to retired next summer. Much will rest on the shoulder’s of inspirational Manchester City midfielder Yaya Touré, while Drogba will share goalscoring duties with Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Swansea City’s £12 million forward Wilfried Bony.
The Ivorians have never made it past the group stage at the World Cup, although they will hope for a kinder draw than in previous tournaments.
United connection: Sir Alex once admitted that signing Drogba in 2012 was a serious temptation after the striker’s contract with Chelsea ended that summer. In the end Drogba moved Shanghai Shenhua where he played 11 games, and then on to Galatasaray.
Qualified: via CAF play-offs after topping Group F
Manager: Stephen Okechukwu Keshi
Keshi has won the Africa Cup of Nations both as player and coach – one of only two men to do so. The former defender earned 64 caps for the Super Eagles before turning to coaching first with Togo, then Mali and eventually his homeland in 2011.
Nigeria qualified undefeated after beating Ethiopia in the play-offs both home and away. The 2013 ACoN champions have high hopes of progressing beyond their best ever finish at the World Cup – the second round in both 1994 and 1998. That said, there was similar confidence four years ago, when the Nigerians crashed out at the group stage.
There is plenty of quality in the squad this time, with goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama underpinning a solid defence that may contain no world stars, but conceded just four goals in qualifying. Premier League stalwarts Shola Ameobi and Victor Moses will join Emmanuel Emenike in attack.
United connection: midfielder John Obi Mikel was a United player for about two weeks in April and May 2005, before a now infamous switch to Chelsea. Bizarrely, the transfer netted United around £12 million in compensation.
Qualified: via CAF play-offs after topping Group I
Manager: Volker Finke
German Finke is a veteran of the Bundesliga, having managed Freiburg for more than 15 years, before taking over at Urawa Red Diamonds and then Köln. He was named head coach of Cameroon in May 2013.
Finke’s side qualified via the revamped play-off system after rocky progress through the group stage. Defeat to Libya on matchday two threatened the Indomitable Lions‘ World Cup future, although the side would eventually thrash Tunisia 4-1 in the CAF play-off.
This is not, however, one of Cameroon’s finest sides having failed to qualify for either of the past two ACoN tournaments, while the team was knocked out of World Cup 2010 after losing all three matches at the group stage. Captain Samuel Eto’o will lead the side, while Mainz’ Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will pose a genuine goal threat. In Alex Song there is steel in midfield, while Valencia’s Stéphane Mbia adds a touch of class.
United connection: Eric “so good they named him twice” Djemba Djemba appeared 24 times for the national team, including at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
Qualified: via CAF play-offs after topping Group D
Manager: Akwasi Appiah
Appiah is a former international who is enjoying his first senior management position with the Black Stars, after taking charge of the under-23 side in 2011.
Ghana qualified for World Cup 2014 with some ease, topping Group D undefeated before knocking Egypt out in the play-offs 7-3 on aggregate. Still, Appiah’s side has something to prove after finishing just fourth at this year’s ACoN tournament, losing to Mali in the third place play-off. There’s plenty of talent on offer, with Marseille’s Ayew brothers joining captain Asamoah Gyan in attack. Meanwhile, Sulley Muntari, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah add genuine quality in midfield. Ghana will hope to match the excellent performance at World Cup 2010 when the Black Stars were controversially knocked out by Uruguay.
United connection: Ferguson attempted to acquire vice-captain Michael Essien in 2005, before Chelsea outbid the Reds with a £24 million offer for the former Olympique Lyonnais midfielder.
Qualified: via CAF play-offs after topping Group H
Manager: Vahid Halilhodžić
Bosnian Halilhodžić is a veteran Francophile, having played for both Nantes and Paris Saint German in a fine club career. Later, as a manager, Halilhodžić took charge of Lille OSC, Stade Rennais and PSG.
Algeria emerged victorious from five of six group matches to top a section section that included ACoN semi-finalists Mali, together with Benin and Rwanda. Victory over Burkina Faso on away goals qualified the Algerians for a second successive World Cup.
The largely European-based squad is youthful and inexperienced, but what Halilhodžić lacks in age he may make up for in talent. Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli is an attacking midfielder of note, while Medhi Lacen is a neat defensive-minded player doing well at Getafe. Captain Madjid Bougherra is no stranger to fans in the UK.
United connection: Peter Kenyon, so the story goes, once bid just £8 million for Zinedine Zidane. Unsurprisingly Juventus turned it down. Zidane won the World Cup with France in 1998, but is of Kabyle-Berber Algerian descent. Oh, and United once played Algeria.
Qualified: first in CONCACAF qualification standings
Manager: Jürgen Klinsmann
Klinnsman’s iconic status in the world game reached its zenith when the former Tottenham Hotspur striker won the penalty that sealed Germany’s 1990 World Cup win. As a coach, Klinnsman began the process of Germany’s revival, before taking over Bayern Munich for a single season in 2008. California-loving Klinnsman was appointed USA manger in July 2011.
The Americans qualified comfortably for World Cup 2014 in the end, topping the CONCACAF standings with 23 points from 10 games. But the campaign could hardly have started in more disastrous fashion, with defeat to Honduras in the opening qualification fixture. By the end, however, Klinnsman had fashioned a robust and talented American team.
There are plenty of familiar names: Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will all be on the plane to Brazil. The Americans could well do better than the round of 16 achieved in 2010.
United connection: ‘keeper Howard has made a fine career since being dumped by Sir Alex in 2007. Howard is one of four Americans to have played for United, together with Jonathon Spector, Ed McIlvenny and James Brown.
Qualified: second in CONCACAF qualification standings
Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto
Colombian Pinto took the Costa Rica job part way through the qualification process, but has quickly built a strong side that could surprise some at the tournament. Veteran of 18 coaching positions, the 60-year-old is in his second spell with Los Ticos.
Costa Rica qualified for World Cup 2014 with two games to spare, ending a decade long wait to return to the world stage. Victory over Mexico on the final matchday was unnecessary, but underlined the progress made over the past two years, including a 3-1 home win over the Americans in September.
Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz is a familiar name, while the experienced Álvaro Saborío has scored at both club and international level. Meanwhile, Levante’s Keylor Navas has been outstanding between the sticks in La Liga.
United connection: Pablo “Paulo” Wanchope Watson scored one of the finest ever goals ever against United at Old Trafford, beating four Reds before firing past Peter Schmeichel during Derby County’s 3–2 in 1997.
Qualified: third in CONCACAF qualification standings
Manager: Luis Fernando Suárez
Colombian Suárez is no stranger to the World Cup having coached Ecuador at the 2006 tournament, reaching the second round in a run that included victory over Poland and Costa Rica. He has also managed Atlético Nacional, winning the Categoría Primera in 1999, and Deportivo Cali.
The Hondurans began the final group stage with victory over USA and suffered just two defeats in the final 10 matches. Few will fancy the Central Americans to make a real mark at the World Cup, but there is both experience and quality at Suárez’ disposal. Wilson Palacios, Emilio Izaguirre and Maynor Figueroa are familiar names, while Carlo Costly will lead the attack in Brazil.
United connection: Javier Hernández scored twice for Mexico against Honduras in a pulsating 2-2 draw between the sides at San Pedro Sula last March.
Qualified: via the international play-offs
Manager: Miguel Herrera
Club América’s Herrera is in temporary charge after José Manuel de la Torre was fired as coach of the national team by Femexfut president Justino Compean in September. There was little surprise given the disastrous qualification campaign. Herrera is favourite to lead Mexico at the 2014 tournament.
The last time Mexico failed to qualify for the World Cup Chicharito was not even a thought, let alone a glint, in the postman’s eye. While the ‘Cachirules scandal‘ resulted in disqualification from the 1990 tournament, El Tri are perennial qualifiers. The campaign for 2014 was so nearly a disaster on a national scale though, with the Mexicans thankful that USA beat Panama on the final matchday. As it was, El Tri faced the ignominy of a play-off against New Zealand for a spot in the World Cup.
The most remarkable thing about Mexico’s struggle to reach Brazil is that there is a wealth of talent available. After all, the under-23 squad was victorious at the 2012 Olympics in London. Hernández has one in two at international level, while Giovani dos Santos, and Andres Guardado offer plenty of creativity.
United connection: Hernández is United’s one and only Mexican, but will he still be a Red come summer 2014? There has been more than a whisper from the striker’s camp in recent months, with the 25-year-old understandably frustrated to spend much of his time on United’s bench.