What Can We Expect From African Teams At The 2018 World Cup?
For the best part of three decades now, football fans have been anticipating that a African team would enjoy some tangible success at a World Cup. Cameroon in 1990 were close to reaching the semi-finals, as were Senegal in 2002.
Cameroon, inspired by the ageing Roger Milla at Italia ’90, lost to England in the quarter-finals, thanks, in part to Gary Lineker’s efforts from the penalty spot. Senegal, in Japan in 2002, beat France and Sweden before being knocked out in the quarter-finals by Turkey.
Ghana in 2010, when the World Cup was held on African soil in South Africa, also came agonisingly close to the semi-finals. They lost in the quarter-finals on penalties to Uruguay, after the South Americans’ star striker Luis Suarez was sent for handball earlier in the game.
But no African team has yet managed to cross that bridge to the last four of the competition. Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia will all be in Russia this summer, with some of the world’s finest players in their squads. But what are the chances that an African team can reach the last four, or even the final? We’ll have a go at answering that question here.
The Pharaohs are at their first World Cup since 1990. Egypt are one of Africa’s most successful football teams, having won the Africa Cup of Nations six times in total in their history. Russia will be their third trip to a World Cup finals, and they will be in Group A, where they will face hosts Russia, as well as Saudi Arabia and Uruguay.
That is not a bad draw for the team, who have never before reached the second round of the World Cup. Coach Hector Cuper, an Argentine, has received some criticism for his defensive style of player, but success has certainly vindicated his approach. The Pharaohs overcame Uganda, Ghana and the Republic of Congo in qualification, and scored just eight goals in six games.
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah is undoubtedly the team’s star man. He netted five goals in six games in the final round of qualifiers, and scored the penalty against Congo that confirmed his country’s trip to Russia. He has been in outstanding form for his club this season, with over 30 Premier League goals to his name, and is one of the world’s best attacking players.
Another Premier League star who will be in the Egyptian squad is Arsenal midfielder Mohamed Elneny. The squad did suffer a blow recently, when it was confirmed that Zamalek goalkeeper Ahmed El Shenawy will miss the tournament through injury. That, though, means that 45-year-old Essam El Hadary could feature between the sticks for the Pharaohs, and become the oldest man to play in a World Cup in the process.
Egypt were the first African team to ever play in a World Cup, in Italy in 1934, but they have to win a game in their three appearances at the finals. The closest they have come to a victory of note was in 1990, when they managed a draw with a Netherlands team featuring Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.
If Salah hits form, then they certainly have a chance of beating Saudi Arabia and securing their first win at a World Cup tournament, but it will be tough for them to get out of a group featuring both the streetwise Uruguayans and the hosts Russia. A first round exit looks likely.
Uruguay (1pm, June 15, Ekaterinburg), Russia (7pm, June 19, St Petersburg), Saudi Arabia (3pm, June 25, Volgograd)
William Hill has the Pharaohs priced at 150/1 to win the tournament, and 9/1 to reach the quarter-finals. Mo Salah is priced at 40/1 to be the tournament’s top goal scorer.
Morocco last qualified for the World Cup in 1998, and do have some decent pedigree when it comes to their history. The Atlas Lions did make the last 16 of the 1986 tournament in Mexico. At that tournament, they beat Portugal 3-1, and held England and Poland to goalless draws to claim top spot in their first round group. They will face the Portuguese again in Russia, as well as European giants Spain and Iran. They have four previous finals appearances in total in their history.
This time around, Morocco qualified by finishing top of Group C in African qualifying, beating Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali to a place in Russia. Herve Renard is the team’s coach, and the Frenchman likes his teams to play with defensive solidity and flair in attack. Significantly, he has enjoyed success with other African teams, having won the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and the Ivory Coast three years later.
A key player is midfielder Nabil Dirar, who is now at Turkish side Fenerbahce. He played a central role in Monaco winning the French league title in 2017. Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech offers an additional creative threat, especially from dead ball situations, while Juventus defender Medhi Benatia is an important player at the back.
Morocco’s best chance of a victory is undoubtedly in the opening game against Iran. After that, facing both Portugal and Spain is a stern test, and the Atlas Lions will do well to reach the second phase. A first round exit looks likely.
Iran (4pm, June 15, St Petersburg), Portugal (1pm, June 20, Moscow), Spain (7pm, June 25, Kaliningrad)
Betway has priced Morocco at 400/1 to win the World Cup. They also have them at 12/1 to reach the quarter finals, and 7/1 to be the top African team.
Nigeria have long been one of Africa’s best teams, with the potential to become one of world football’s genuine powerhouses. They have never quite managed to deliver on the biggest stage of all, though, at the World Cup finals. Since qualifying for the first time at USA ’94, the Super Eagles have missed only one World Cup, the 2006 event in Germany. They have reached the last 16 of the tournament in 1994, 1998 and 2014.
Nigeria qualified by topping Africa’s Group B, finishing five points clear of Zambia and six ahead of Cameroon. Algeria were the other team in that group, showing just what an achievement finishing top was for the Nigerians.
Coached by German Gernot Rohr, the team is packed with talent, with some of the Premier League’s top players set to pull on the dark green jersey in Russia. Chelsea wing back Victor Moses is certainly one to watch, having been voted as Nigeria’s Player of the Year in February. Former Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel is still around too, helping to provide a solid base in a team packed with attacking talent.
Other players to watch include Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi, Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho and German-born defender Leon Balogun. Goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa could also play an important role in keeping opposition attacks at bay.
Drawn against Argentina yet again, a team that they have faced in five out of their six previous trips to the World Cup, as well as Iceland and the always dangerous Croatia, Nigeria do not have an easy task in making the second round. They have enough ability to reach the quarter-finals, though, if the team plays to its potential.
Croatia (8pm, June 16, Kaliningrad), Iceland (4pm, June 22, Volgograd), Argentina (7pm, June 26, St Petersburg)
Coral have priced the Super Eagles at 200/1 to win the World Cup, and at 9/1 to win Group D. They are at 5/2 to reach the second phase with the same bookie, and at 80/1 to reach the final.
Tunisia, nicknamed the Carthage Eagles, reached the World Cup thanks to topping Group A in African qualifying. Also in the group were DR Congo, Libya and Guinea. This is the fifth time that the Tunisians will feature in a World Cup, having also competed in 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2006. In their appearances so far, they have managed to record only victory, against Mexico in Argentina in 1978. That win was the first for an African nation at a World Cup tournament.
Forward Youssef Msakni is one of the Carthage Eagles who might be expected to be one of the team’s star players in the tournament. He is set to undergo surgery in the USA, however, in a bid to be fit for the World Cup, after suffering a knee injury while playing for his Qatari club Al Duhail recently. He has nine goals in 39 games to his credit for Tunisia, including a hat-trick in qualifying against Guinea.
Aymen Mathlouthi, 33, is the team’s veteran goalkeeper, and he could be a key man. Marseille defender Aymen Abdennour (currently on loan from Valencia), and ES Tunis midfielder Ghaylene Chaalali are also players who are worth keeping an eye on. Most of Tunisia’s players are based in the country’s domestic league.
Nabil Maaloul is in his second spell as national team coach, and he has helped the side reach a FIFA world ranking of 23, highest of any African team currently.
Tunisia may have the highest FIFA ranking of any African side, but they are unlikely to add to their tally of World Cup victories, after being drawn in Group G with England, Belgium and Panama. If they qualify for the knock-out phase it would be a massive achievement.
England (7pm, June 18, Volgograd), Belgium (1pm, June 23, Moscow), Panama (7pm, June 28, Saransk)
Betfred have them at 12/1 to win Group G, and 4/1 to reach the second phase. They are at 500/1 with Betfred to win the tournament outright, and 200/1 to reach the final.
Senegal have only one previous World Cup appearance to their name, but it is an impressive one. In the 2002 tournament, held in Japan and South Korea, the Teranga Lions reached the quarter-finals, where they were lost 1-0 to Turkey after extra time. There is a strong link to that 2002 adventure in the current squad, with coach Aliou Cisse having been the team’s captain back then.
Cisse oversaw an impressive march to the finals in qualifying, with the Senegalese winning Group D, which also featured Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa, without losing a game. The Teranga Lions are ranked at 24 in the world by FIFA, the second-highest ranked African side behind Tunisia.
The star player is undoubtedly Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, who has enjoyed an outstanding season in the Premier League with the Reds. Another player to watch is Moussa Sow, a striker with Turkish outfit Fenerbahce, who scored with a spectacular overhead kick in a Europa League clash with Manchester United in 2016. West Ham United midfielder Cheikhou Kouyaté captains the side. Idrissa Gueye is another Premier League midfielder who is expected to feature, with the Everton man adding some defensive stability in the middle of the park.
Drawn in Group H with Poland, Colombia and Japan, Senegal will fancy their chances of reaching the quarter finals. They certainly have enough ability to do so, and could be one of the tournament’s most exciting teams.
Senegal should win their group, and have an excellent chance of repeating their performance in 2002, when they reached the quarter finals. Anything beyond that would be a huge boost for African football, but it is unlikely that they can make the last four of the tournament.
Poland (4pm, June 19, Moscow), Japan (4pm, June 24, Ekaterinburg), Colombia (3pm, June 28, Samara)
Bet Victor has Senegal priced at 200/1 to win the World Cup outright, and 9/2 to win Group H. They are priced at 2/1 to be eliminated in the second round, 8/1 to be knocked out in the quarter-final and 16/1 to reach in the semi-final. If you think they will finish runners up in the tournament, you can get 100/1 at Bet Victor, where they are also 2/1 to be the tournament’s top African team. Sadio Mane is 66/1 to be the tournament’s top scorer.