All eyes on African teams as World Cup begins

AFRICA is the second most populated continent and football is king, but producing a team to advance beyond the quarter-finals is a dream yet to pass – let alone to lift the gold trophy.

Since Egypt became the first African team to play in the World Cup final in 1934, only three teams have been able to reach the round of last eight; Cameroun in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. Could 2018 be the time for new history? – May be, maybe not.

As the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks-off today in Russia, the question is: Will any of the five African teams reach semi-finals for a historic first time?

Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia are representing Africa in Russia – but few believe they will get near the final. Like legendary Nelson Mandela put it, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Internal controversies, poor preparations, lack of organisation and tactical errors to mention but a few, are some of the ills, according to experts.

At least 70% of African teams that have been to the World Cup including Russia 2018 were coached by non-African coaches.

Of the 44 occasions, African teams have been to World Cup, including Russia 2018; thirty have been managed by non-African coaches.

At the 21st edition of the glamorous quadrennial event, Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria are managed by an Argentinian, a Frenchman and a German tactician respectively.

For each team’s pedigree and their respective group opponents, here is a closer look at each team.

Nigeria

They made the first appearance 24 years ago. Dressed in the splendid green and white outfit complete with hats and shoes, they seem to have already won the fashion contest at the games.

Under German Coach Gernot Rohr since 2016, with their preferred 4-2-3-1 format, a Group D win against Croatia and Iceland will propel them to the last sixteen.

A win against Argentina will really be a scuffle, unless team captain Obi Mikel, Kelechi Iheancho and Victor Moses inspire the Super Eagles to what would rather be a miracle. Their strength lies in their solid midfield play and the captivating firepower in the attack.

Senegal

The Lions of Teranga face Poland in the Group H opener on June 19, under a pragmatic Coach Aliou Cisse who captained the legendary 2002 team in Korea and Japan.

They intend to use a new system of the 3-5-2 format in Russia. Key stars will be Idrissa Gueye, Chiekhou Kouyate on top of a combative midfield composed of Keita Balde plus gifted match winner Sadio Mané.

If results break right, a place in the final 16 is within reach.

Egypt

The Pharaohs return to the contest after 28 years; they qualified through a dramatic fashion under Argentine Hector Cupe.

The star player is Mohamed Salah, whose shoulder injury in UEFA Champions league final last month had put the entire nation on edge. Thankfully, he is reported to be fit for the country’s opener against Uruguay on Friday.

Russia and Saudi Arabia are the other two Group A members.

Morocco

The Lions of Atlas return to the showpiece after 20 years, under French coach Herve Renard. They are marking their fourth appearance on the world scene.

Of the 23-man squad in Russia, only six were born in Morocco. The rest were born in Europe.

They have a very well drilled and tough backline, having qualified without conceding a goal. The team has only conceded 11 goals in their last 23 matches.

Forwards Hakim Ziyech and Nordin Amrabat are likely to be a magical duo. Morocco face Iran this Friday in their opener of deadly Group B – which also includes Portugal and Spain.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s first World Cup appearance since 2006 might have been derailed before it starts.

In April, star man and top scorer in qualifying Youssef Msakni was ruled out of the tournament after tearing a cruciate ligament – a scenario that national team boss Nabil Maaloul equated to Argentina trying to compete in Russia without Lionel Messi.

Most of the players in Russia play in lower ranked leagues and, will definitely need to step up their game to survive early exit from Group G – also made of England, Belgium, and Panama.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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