ALL EYES ON AFRICA FOR THE WORLD CUP FINALS
The journey to Russia has not been easy for the five African teams who qualified for the world cup.
In the past, West Africa dominated Africa’s cohort, the World Cup, but some of its big names missed out this time: Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana, the all-African champions won’t be in Russia.
Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Senegal and Nigeria all of which overcame big odds to qualify for the World Cup Finals have a titanic task ahead of them to make it out of the group stage.
So far no African team has ever reached the world cup semi finals.
Egypt’s Pharaohs is the continent’s most successful national team, having won the African cup of nations seven times, the most for any team.
This is the Pharaohs’ first entrance into the final since 1990 and their third overall appearance. Their qualification was nothing short of dramatic as national hero and Liverpool striker, Mohamed Salah, scored a 94th minute penalty to take the win in their second-to-last game of qualifiers against Congo.
They are in Group A with Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Although Russia is not the favorite in this group, they are the home team. The Pharaohs will have their eyes on Uruguay with all eyes on the clash between the two competing strikers, Mohamed Salah and Luis Suarez.
Morocco’s Atlas Lions will be participating in their fifth world cup, although their last time at the world cup was in 1998. Led by their captain, Mehdi Bentia, the Atlas Lions won every qualifying match, even against the continent’s giants, Ivory Coast. They can credit their success to their French trainer, Herve Reiner, whose resumé includes winning the African Cup twice with Zambia (2012) and Ivory Coast (2015).
However, they face a robust and experienced Group B with Spain, Portugal and Iran. The group’s favorite being Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
World Cup regular, Nigeria who have only missed one tournament since 1994, will be playing in their sixth World Cup Finals in Russia.
Under the leadership of their captain John Obi Mikel the Super Eagles beat Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria in the qualifiers.
Nigeria, which is ranked number 50 in the world was placed in a weaker group and will be competing against Croatia, Iceland and Argentina.
The Eagles have a combative line up featuring Leiceters’ Kelechi Iheanacho and Arsenal’s midfielder Alex Iwobu.
If Nigeria manages to pull through, they will be facing a team from Group C, which includes France, Peru, Denmark and Australia, with possibly a good chance of moving on to the quarter-finals.
Tunisia qualified for their fifth World Cup Finals, and first since 2006. The Carthage Eagles have not yet been able to survive the group’s stage.
And in this tournament they will have their work cut out for them if they are to make the knockout stage for the first time by getting through their Group G that has Panama, Belgium and England. They go into the tournament in good form and have not lost an international match since January 2017, though their striker Youseff Msakni has a torn ligament and will not be playing in the World Cup.
The team’s hope relies on their offensive midfielders Wahbi Khazri and Naim Sliti to help them advance to the next rounds.
Senegal’s Teranga Lions seems to have the most star power among the African teams. Their powerhouse line up includes; Liverpool’s Sadio Mané, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, Monaco’s Keita Baldé, and Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye. They are coached by Aliou Cissé, who was the captain of the national team during the historic 2002 run, and are still a popular figure among fans and players.
Their previous play in 2002 saw them beat holders France in the opening game and go onto to become only the second African team to reach the quarterfinals.
They play in Group H, perhaps one of the most evenly matched in the competition wiht Japan, Poland and Colombia.
But if things go their way, Senegal could be moving on to face a team from Tunisia’s group and perhaps then into another historic run of two African teams facing off in the semis.