By David Legge
African football legends Abedi 'Pele' Ayew and George Weah believe the continent can end its World Cup drought by winning the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
Cameroon reached the 1990 quarter-finals in Italy and Senegal repeated the feat 12 years later in South Korea but no team from the 'Dark Continent' has made the penultimate stage.
Former Ghana midfield maestro and three-time African Footballer of the Year Pele believes the first World Cup to be staged on the continent offers its six representatives a glorious chance to break the duck.
"This is our best chance of lifting the trophy because if you study the history of the World Cup Brazil are the only team to win it outside their continent.
"We definitely will have one African team that goes far and when I say goes far I mean as far as lifting the trophy. When I make this prediction people laugh, but I believe it," Pele insisted here.
"When I told football officials that African champions Egypt would defeat world champions Italy during the Fifa Confederations Cup this year they all laughed.
"It happened and they had to admit I was right," he recalled, referring to the 1-0 loss the star-saturated 'Azzurri' suffered against the 'Pharaohs' in Johannesburg in June during the World Cup dress rehearsal.
Italy failed to make the semi-finals while Egypt squandered a great chance to get there by crashing 3-0 to the United States, who sneaked through and went on to lose the final against Brazil after leading by two goals.
Egypt surprisingly failed to qualify for the 32-team international football showpiece scheduled to kick off on June 11 and finish on July 11 with the final at the 90 000-seat Soccer City stadium on the outskirts of Soweto.
But Pele is convinced Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria or automatic qualifiers South Africa can go all the way and end a Europe-South America dominance stretching back to the first World Cup 79 years ago.
"Look at Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria; these teams are growing so fast," boasts Pele, whose son Andre helped Ghana win the world youth title in Egypt in 2009.
Pele also offered encouragement for struggling South Africa, whose recent goalless home draws with Japan and Jamaica ended a run of eight defeats in nine matches that triggered the sacking of Brazilian coach Joel Santana.
"They learnt about their weaknesses during the Confederations Cup and will get better," Pele said of the host nation, who rehired 1994 Brazil World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira for a second spell at the helm.
Former Liberia striker Weah, another three-times African Footballer of the Year, says preparations hold the key to an African success in a tournament the Brazilians have won a record five times.
"It will be a difficult task but not impossible. There is a high possibility that an African team can win the World Cup if it prepares well," Weah said while touring 2010 African Nations Cup hosts Angola.
"Ghana have won the world youth title and Nigeria were runners-up in the world junior championship so why not an African winner of the World Cup?" he asked. - Sapa-AFP