It’s time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup to get under way and as we are from Africa we decided to have a preview of the African representatives at this year’s spectacle in Russia.
The Senegalese will be carrying the hopes of the continent when the world cup kicks off in Russia. The Lions of Teranga stunned many in 2002 when they beat reigning champions France in the opening game of the tournament which culminated in them going all the way to the quarter finals. It was a big achievement then considering it has only been matched by two African sides since the inception of the FIFA World Cup.
They have not been to the finals since then thus just this qualification in its own is a big achievement. This should lessen the burden on their shoulders and let the players play with a bit of freedom. But then again there’s a bit of expectation this time around with a galaxy of their stars playing in the big leagues in Europe. In Sadio Mane, they have one of the best wingers in the world. They have been drawn in a relatively easy group which could see them sealing top spot thereby ensuring a better passage into the knockout stages. They should make it to the last 16 easily and from there on anything is possible.
Sadio Mane & Kalidou Koulibaly
The Egyptians are back in the big time after an absence of more than a quarter of a century. In their absence from the global showpiece, they dominated the continental tournament, AFCON, winning it three times in 6 years between 2006 and 2010. It remains a shame that they did not get to compete against the world’s best at their peak with their golden generation. Now though they are here.
Mohammed Salah set the English Premier league alight this past season with a series of exceptional displays which has led to many comparisons with Messi and Ronaldo. Yes, that is just how good he has been. His influence has been such that Liverpool crumbled to defeat after his withdrawal through injury in the champions league final. The hopes of the nation will be resting on Salah’s shoulders. The big question is will his shoulder heal in time to lead the Pharaohs’ attack? If he is fit, then the Pharaohs will most likely make it out of a relatively easy group after a kind draw. They should be good enough to make the quarterfinals; beyond that of course we’re allowed to dream for an African triumph that will be just as sweet.
Mohammed Salah & Ahmed Hegazi
Made it out of the group stages in 2014 but could not match their best finish of quarterfinals achieved back in 1994 after a defeat to France in the last 16. The Super Eagles are a side often beret with internal squabbles which has led to many a disruption in the lead up to major tournaments. This time though Captain John Obi Mikel is singing a different tune and says there is a unity never seen before.
It is a relatively young Nigerian squad that coach Rohr is taking to Russia. He has managed to unite them and got the team playing for each other though recent friendly results haven’t been good. That counts for nothing though when the tournament proper kicks off. They have been drawn in the same group with heavyweights and familiar foes Argentina. It is a tough group to negotiate and thus as disappointing a group stage exit will be, it won’t surprise many. Just making it out of a tough group will be a good achievement but an expectant nation back home will be hoping for more.
John Obi Mikel & Alex Iwobi
Unbeaten and only conceding one goal in qualifying, tells the story of a very stingy and tight defense. Not surprising considering the men at the helm of the Atlas Lions is Herve Renard, a double AFCON champion with lowly Zambia and Ivory Coast and a shrewd tactician. Known for his organization and an ability to get the best out of an average group of players. Could he do the same with this Moroccan team boosting a few players from Europe but no household names bar Juventus star centreback Medhi Benatia.
They would do well to make it out of the group stage considering they have been drawn in the same group with the two Iberian super powers Spain and Portugal. Their Arabic derby with Iran will be key if they are to get anything from this showpiece event. Expect them to go down with a fight though for Renard is known for just that, backs against the wall stuff and fighting against the odds.
Unfortunately for the North Africans though, a group stage exit looms large.
Tunisia will be looking to get their first tournament win in three editions at the finals. Not a lot is expected from the Tunisians at the World Cup. However they do have one thing going for them though, that is self belief. They have nothing to lose and everything to play for as no one expected them to qualify for the finals anyway.
Whilst everyone outside their camp is not as expectant, they will be hoping to quietly go about their business and surprise one or two teams. A win against fellow minnows Panama and an upset against traditional contenders Belgium and England could lead to them upsetting the odds and making it through to the last 16, a feat many feel is beyond them.
The Carthage Eagles were dealt a major blow when inspirational attacker Yossef Msakni was ruled out of the World Cup through injury. In his absence they will be looking to Wahbi Khazri for inspiration though getting out of the group will be a tough ask.
With all said and done, let the tournament begin and let’s all unite in this time though the beautiful game.