December 1st was a great day for 32 nations that had qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Among the 32 Nations five of those nations came from our motherland Africa.
These five nations carry the pride of one of the only few continents never to have produced a semi-finalist nor a world cup winner. Part of this reason has been credited to the fact that our continent is not at the same competitive level football wise with the rest of the world. This theory could be true in a sense as recently Africa’s representatives to the FIFA Club World Cup, Wydad Casablanca, failed to help the continent bag its maiden Club World Cup Championship.
Secondly, Wydad failed to even get past the fifth place playoff. With such a history, will Africa produce its first semi-finalist? Or will we witness a first African finalist? In today’s installment on Thinking Out Loud, we shall expound on Africa’s Chances in the World Cup. Sit tight, relax and let your football captain, Ananda Anjeyo take you on a free trip to Russia.
Our journey begins with a trip to the first group that pits hosts Russia, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and Africa’s Representative Egypt.
Nickname: The Pharaohs.
Coach: Hector Cuper (Arg)
Star Player: Mohamed Salah
What are the Egypt’s realistic chances? Round of 16 with an outside chance at the Quarter Finals.
Egypt are making a return to The World Cup after a long absence. They last appeared at the global football extravaganza during Italia 90 but were the first African Nation to Qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In my own opinion this is the best placed African side to make it to the Round of 16. Pool A is one of the most balanced groups of the entire draw.
Egypt begin their campaign against Uruguay on 15th June 2018. They then face Saudi Arabia and then finally completing the group assignment with a game against the hosts Russia.
Egypt are straight up favorites for second place in this group owing to the strength in both youth and experience. Their first match against Uruguay is one to look forward to as the only game that Egypt may find trouble in getting a result. Not to disrespect The Pharaohs, Uruguay have won the world cup twice and got to the semi-finals in 2010. This can be the perfect opportunity for the continent to get even for the atrocities of Luis Suarez in 2010 as his deliberate handball and the skying of the penalty by Gyan Asamoah caused the continent a place in the semi-finals.
The star man in this team is Mohamed Salah. The Liverpool forward has already scored 20 goals in all competitions this season and is among the most inform forwards in Europe and in the Premier League. An injury free Salah will be beneficial to the entire Pharaohs squad. Other notable members of the Egyptian National Team are Stoke City’s Winger Ramadan Sobhi, Veteran Goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, Arsenal’s midfielder Mohamed Elneny, Mahmoud Hassan (also known as Trezeguet) among many other seasoned professional footballers.
Why Round of 16?
I believe this is the fairest pools that Egypt could have wished for. The games against Russia and Saudi Arabia are winnable. The game against Uruguay is the one that they can at least wish for a draw. Their World Cup chance should definitely come crashing at this stage as a date between Portugal or Spain awaits them.
Nickname: Atlas Lions
Coach: Herve Renard (FRA)
Star Player: Mehdi Benatia
Realistic Chances: Group Stage Exit.
Morocco are making a return the World Cup for the first time since 1998. The last time Morocco were in the World Cup, an injustice between Brazil and Norway caused Morocco a place in the Round of 16. This is definitely not the welcome that the Atlas Lions would have wanted. However much, this is the World Cup and there is only one rule: Step Up or Step Out. When you step up make sure you keep up.
In a group consisting of 2010 Champions Spain, European Champions Portugal, Iran (The first team to qualify for the
World Cup in Russia) Morocco have a daunting task to emerge out of a group that already looks done on paper.
Morocco was in a tough pool comprising of The Elephants of Ivory Coast, The Eagles of Mali and The Panthers of Gabon. First we need to understand that Herve Renard was the former coach for Ivory Coast (Won the African Cup of Nations with both Zambia and Ivory Coast). After the first two rounds of matches Morocco found themselves languishing in third place having posted identical 0-0 draws against both Gabon (away) and against Ivory Coast at home. Herve Renard masterminded a 6-0 win over Mali on the home leg before a 0-0 win away to Bamako. Morocco then hit Gabon 3-0 at home before a 2-0 win away to Ivory Coast that secured qualification without conceding a goal.
This is by in itself no mean feat. Unbeaten and without conceding a goal is no mean achievement. Star players include; Sofiane Boufal of Southampton FC, Younes Belhanda of Galatasaray FC, Achraf Hakimi of Real Madrid and Sofyane Amrabat of Feyenoord.
Why Group Stage Exit
The level that Portugal and Spain are at football wise are way too high for both Morocco and Iran to handle. The match between Iran and Morocco (coincidentally the first in the group) is mainly to determine who finishes third and last. Unless the magic of Herve Renard together with an immense amount of luck on their side, the best is a third place finish with exiting the tourney at the group stage.
Nickname: Super Eagles
Coach: Gernot Rohr (GER)
Star Player: Alexander Chuka Iwobi
Realistic Chances: Quarter Finals
Probably one of the best teams in Africa at the moment, The Super Eagles, are on the brink of history in terms of having the best record of World Cup appearances. There best place finish however is the Round of 16. One can be tempted to say that Nigeria can end up as Africa’s first World Cup winner owing to their successes in the FIFA age group competitions like the U17 World Cup. There is no denying that Nigeria are talented.
The only challenge that Nigeria have had in the World Cup is being unlucky to draw football powerhouses from the rest of the world. Let’s take an historical view into Nigeria’s World Cup performances considering that they have appeared in six of the last seven World Cup Finals.
– 1994 (First appearance) : Lost to Italy 2-1 aet in the second round
– 1998: Lost to Denmark 4-1 in the second round
– 2002: Exited at the group phase without a win.
– 2006: Did not Qualify
– 2010: Group Stage Exit
– 2014: Second Round exit following a 2-0 loss to France.
The other brilliant statistic is that Nigeria have been drawn with Argentina in the same group at the World Cup in 2002, 2010, 2014 and in 2018. Nigeria has narrowly lost to Argentina in all the above meetings save for 2018 World Cup. It remains interesting to see how they will cope with debutants Iceland, dark horses Croatia and the La Albiceleste of Argentina.
Nigeria overcame opposition from Chipolopolo of Zambia, Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and Les Fennecs
of Algeria to qualify for the World Cup. Star players include Victor Moses of Chelsea, John Mikel Obi of Tianjin Teda, Odion Ighalo of Changchung Yatai FC and Isaac Success of Watford FC.
Why Quarter Finals?
Gernot Rohr has transformed this team into something else. Not underestimating the other opponents is something that the coach needs to deal with. Barring any serious injuries in the team members and the confidence that The Super Eagles have added to a sheer amount of luck is what Nigeria need. They can beat anyone on any day. I don’t see why they can’t top the group and advance beyond the Round of 16 into the Quarters where the journey is most likely to find its conclusion.
Nickname: Carthage Eagles
Coach: Nabil Maaloul (TUN)
Star Player: Youssef Msakni
Realistic Chances: Group Stage Exit (Dark Horses for the Round of 16)
This is one of the sides to have qualified for the World Cup 5 times but in the previous 4 they have never advanced past the group stages. Tunisia, however have a record that will never be broken by anyone, as they were the first African side to win a game at the World Cup (1978 when they beat Mexico 3-1).
The Carthage Eagles qualified to the World Cup emerging tops from a group that had The Leopards of Congo DR, The Mediterranean Knights of Libya and Syli Nationale (National Elephants) from Guinea albeit Unbeaten. While Tunisia dominated the qualification rounds, the same cannot be said in their World Cup performances as seen below.
– 1978: Exited at the Group Stage
– 1998: Group Stage
– 2002: Group Stage
– 2006: Group Stage
The Carthage Eagles find themselves in a very tricky group G comprising of The Red Devils of Belgium, The Three Lions of England and debutants Los Canaleros of Panama. The group looks done and dusted even before a ball is kicked. Pre-tournament favorites Belgium can be destructive on their day. England has the pressure of a nation whose under-age sides won both the World U17 and World U20 Championships as well as the European U21 Championship. Panama are in the world cup at the expense of United States Men’s Team. Tunisia have a chance at causing upsets to the pre-tournament favorites (England and Belgium) if they are to advance to the next round.
Star Players include Youssef Msakni of Al-Duhail in Qatar, Aymen Mathlouthi of Esperance, Wahbi Khazri of Rennes and Ahmed Akaichi of Al-Ittihad Jeddah.
Why Group Stage Exit (Dark Horses for the Round of 16)
Tunisia on their day can be very unplayable. Their main problem is not that they lose games. They don’t win as many games to give them even that mathematical chance of qualifying to the next round. The struggle is the reason why they are eliminated at the group stage. If they learn to win then Tunisia will be a problem to England and Panama.
Nickname: Lions of Teranga
Coach: Aliou Cisse (SEN)
Star Player: Sadio Mane
Realistic Chances: Quarter Finals (Dark Horses for the Semi Finals)
The Lions of Teranga as they are commonly referred to are making their second appearance in the World Cup having debuted in 2002 where they shocked defending champions France and even made it to the Quarter Finals where a sudden death goal by Ilhan Masinz ended their chances of becoming Africa’s first semifinalists. They were also the third African nation to get to that stage the others being Cameroon in 1990 and Ghana in 2010.
The beautiful story surrounding Senegal and their qualification to the 2018 World Cup in Russia begins with their coach Aliou Cisse who was the Captain of the side that played in 2002 World Cup. Cisse has arguably made the Lions of Teranga among the dominant forces of football in Africa. An unlucky penalty shootout loss to Cameroon in the 2017 African Cup of Nations quarter finals could not be any more than a catalyst for Senegal to secure their ticket to the 2018 World Cup. This was from a group that involved an appeal at FIFA over poor officiating in a match against South Africa. Senegal won the appeal and FIFA ordered the fixture to be replayed. Senegal won both matches and secured their ticket at the expense of South Africa’s Bafana Bafana, Les Etalons (The Stallions) of Burkina Faso and Tubaroes Azui (The Blue Sharks) of Cape Verde.
Senegal are in Group H together with Poland, Japan and Colombia. This is not an easy pool. But it’s equally not the toughest as each team here can either win or get second place. Star Players include, Cheikh Kouyate of West Ham United, Idrissa Gueye of Everton, M’Baye Niang of Torino and Mame Biram Diouf of Stoke City.
Why Quarter Finals (Dark Horse for the Semi Finals)?
Senegal boast of one of the most dynamic squads of professionals that have played as a team from the age group squads. They have also been place in one of the most open and fair groups ever. If lady luck smiles at them, I don’t see why they shouldn’t qualify for the semi-finals. That is however that outside chance as I see them reach the quarter finals.
What do you think of Africa’s Chances in the World Cup? Drop us a comment below and let’s share the