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ON PAPER, Africa should have its best chance yet for soccer's ultimate trophy when the World Cup kicks off for the first time on its soil a year from now.
Territorial advantage is key to victory. No European nation has ever won a World Cup hosted outside that continent and only South American sides have ever triumphed at past World Cups hosted on their turf.
Pele famously once predicted an African side would win the trophy by the turn of the last century but a decade later, and with the Cup hosted by South Africa, chances still look slim.
While Africa will have the highest ambitions, a potential pretender to the crown is far from obvious.
Nigeria, a big exporter of talent, has consistently disappointed, dragged down in the past by administrative problems and a lack ofconsistency.
The Super Eagles did not even qualify for the last finals in Germany but an away win over France last week in a friendly at St Etienne suggested new potential and they duly beat Kenya in a World Cup qualifier at the weekend.
Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Tunisia should have legitimate aspirations, but chances for the first two were badly knocked back last weekend in qualifying matches.
African champions Egypt suffered a shock 3-1 defeat to Algeria and Cameroon were held to a goalless draw by Morocco.
Ghana and Ivory Coast did much better, the former beating key rivals Mali to top their group and the later putting down Guinea to stay on top.
Few are looking to hosts South Africa to do much more than pass through the first phase in the World Cup finals, a bad outcome if local crowds are to stay involved.
Though South Africa coach Joel Santana has previously told aghast reporters he believes the host nation will win the World Cup, the country's consistent dive down the world rankings and failure to qualify for next year's African Nations Cup finals point to limited potential.
No African side has ever gone past the quarterfinals of the World Cup, Cameroon's Indomitable Lions capturing the world's imagination with their flair in 1990 and Senegal upending defending champions France on their way to the last eight in 2002.
Progress into the semi-final for at least one African country would be the minimum expectation at the 2010 edition, but Pele is likely to have to wait longer still before his prophecy isfulfilled. - Reuters