How will African teams perform at next month’s FIFA Soccer World Cup?
By Jemma Brie, UK-based sport writer. Banner courtesy of africa-ontherise.com
Five African teams have qualified for the World Cup this year, and with the tournament fast approaching, everyone is asking whether this will be the year that an African team fulfills the continent’s dream of World Cup success. Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia are the teams leading the charge, and each one will be hoping to become the most successful African team of the tournament. In this article we take a more in-depth look at each nation and discuss which one will go the furthest.
The Lions of Teranga are ranked 23rd in the FIFA World Rankings, highest of all the African teams, and currently the favourites to finish as the top African nation. Senegal topped their Group D qualification to book a ticket to their second World Cup since 2002. In that tournament, coach Aliou Cisse led the team to a fairy-tale exit in the quarterfinals against Turkey. Seeded in a balanced Group H with Poland, Colombia and Japan, Senegal’s chances of qualifying to the next round are favourable. With Liverpool’s Sadio Mane leading the charge, Senegal will be looking to exceed their predecessor’s 2002 success.
The Super Eagles are seen as regulars in the tournament as of late, with Russia 2018 marking their sixth World Cup qualification. Despite being ranked 50th in the world, and having drawn a difficult group with Argentina, Croatia and debutants Iceland, Nigeria are second favourites to progress far. Nigeria will be hoping to turn their track record against Argentina around, having played them four times in past tournaments and lost each encounter. All Africa reports that German coach Gernot Rohr has said he aims to “at least show good morale and give a good performance.”
As third favourites, Egypt’s Pharaohs have been the most successful team on the African continent, having won the Africa Cup of Nations seven times. Egypt beat Uganda, Ghana and DR Congo, winning an impressive 20 out of 30 games in their qualifying run and are currently ranked 31st in the world. They were also the first African team to qualify for this year’s tournament and the first to score in their qualifications. This will be Egypt’s third appearance. Drawn in Group A with hosts Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia, Egypt will fancy their chances of progressing.
The Atlas Lions are currently fourth favourites in the African continent and Russia will be their fifth World Cup, with the last being 20 years ago in France. Morocco’s impressive qualification run ensured them top spots in the African pool, thanks to the brilliant tactics of Herve Renard. This year Morocco have been drawn with Spain, Portugal and Iran. Former trainer Volker Finke told Deutsche Welle that Morocco are well organised and very capable of challenging powerhouses Spain and Portugal. They will need to at least draw or beat one of the those nations to stand a chance of qualifying.
The Carthage Eagles have been slightly unlucky this year. Despite an excellent qualifying run winning four of their six games and finishing unbeaten, they’ve drawn a relatively difficult Group G alongside Belgium, Panama and England. The key to their success will be Marseille defender Aymen Abdennour, with ES Tunis midfielder Ghaylene Chaalali expected to impress and provide scoring opportunities. An upset against either Belgium or England will give them the best chance to progress.
How will the five perform when compared to the most successful African teams of past tournaments? One of the most successful and impressive teams was Cameroon in 1990. The Bleacher Report notes that they achieved the impossible at Italia ’90 when they beat Argentina 1-0 in their opening group game. In their next match Cameroon beat Romania 2-1 to ensure qualification to the Round of 16. Coral details how Roger Milla’s goal celebration against Romania has become one of the World Cup’s most iconic images. Milla would score four times in the tournament that saw Cameroon knocked out in quarterfinals by England. Present African teams will look to emulate that success and perhaps even go further.