High hopes for Africa’s six finalists

Africa will have a record total of six teams in the next week’s draw for the World Cup finals and there are high expectations for the continent. Five nations went through the qualification process and hosts South Africa were given an automatic berth for the first finals on African soil. The emergence of top-class players like Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Michael Essien has led to the continent’s increased sense of exception.

Cameroon will be competing at an African record sixth finals and Nigeria play for the fourth time. Algeria and South Africa have been to two previous World Cups but the region’s best hopes could rest with Ghana and Ivory Coast, who both participate for only he second time. Brazilian great Pele and former England manager Walter Winterbottom predicted Africa would produce a World Cup winner by the end of the 20th century but the region is still waiting to get a team to the semifinals. The best performance by an African side has come from Cameroon and Senegal, almost 12 years apart.

Senegal created several shocks en route to the quarter-finals in 2002 while Cameroon brought a charismatic charm and a bruising bite to their run to the last eight in 1990 before bowing out in extra-time to England. Only one of the five African teams present made it beyond the group stages in Germany in 2006 and Ghana were immediately dispatched by Brazil in the first knockout round. Repeated success for Ghana and Nigeria at junior level has suggested future potential but it has failed to materialize at senior soccer.

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Relationship between India, US finds its mojo

Face to face, United States President Obama seems even more unflappable, cerebral and dispassionate than he appears on the television. Ironically, we can say the same about Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It is no surprise then that the two got along famously. India need not fear a drift in the US-India partnership in Obama’s watch, say analysts weighing on the visit.

The four-day visit ran its course with no uncomfortable moments despite the fact that US and India failed to tie up a pact designed to ensure that New Delhi will not reprocess American-sold nuclear fuel into weapons- grade material. Both sides remained optimistic that it would get done. Obama unequivocally committed his administration to the full implementation of the nuclear deal, describing it an opportunity to “increase American exports and create jobs.”

Earlier this year, Indians were taken aback by references in General Stanley McChrystal’s report describing India’s role in Afghanistan as provocative toward Pakistan. By dint of history, the US and India find themselves supporting mutual goals in Afghanistan, including the development of a democratic government that will nix the Taliban from regaining power. India brimmed with pleasure that US “appreciated” India’s role in Afghanistan and “agreed to enhance their respective efforts”.

The Obama-Manmohan joint statement also echoes the Indian charge about Pakistani doublespeak on terrorism. It keeps the pressure on Islamabad to eliminate terrorist safe heavens. Analysts weighed in on the joint statement to pronounce Manmohan’s visit a “creditable success”. Obama also made amends to the glaring omission of India in his Asia-Pacific speech delivered at Tokyo en route to China by saying India today is a rising global power. The visit was useful as Manmohan Singh also used his alone time with the US president to raise India’s concerns about Chinese border incursions. Although Washington is following a Sino-centric Asia policy, the US is unlikely to stand idle if Beijing were to further inflame border tensions.

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