World Cup 2018 – 5 of the Best ! 5 African Teams

World Cup 2018 Review by Richard Wanjohi 
Just days to the World Cup, we at SportsKenya look at 5 of the best! The first of the posts starts with a look at 5 of Africa’s representatives at the 2018 edition. Enjoy!

FIFA World Cup 2018 Logo (courtesy of FIFA.com)
FIFA World Cup 2018 Logo (courtesy of FIFA.com)

5 African Country Teams

  1. Egypt
    (FIFA ranking 46th worldwide, 5th in Africa)
    The Pharaohs; first African country to play in the FIFA World Cup back in 1934 (coincidentally also it’s best-placed). Playing in its 3rd outing, it has one of the strongest African teams on paper. It has won most of the Africa Cup of Nations making it a formidable opponent. It carries one of Europe’s lethal strikers in the just-concluded season who broke both club and Premier League scoring records.

X-Factor: Mohammed Salah has been a fresh breath of air, helping his club team to the finals of the UEFA Champions League. Though recovering from a shoulder injury sustained a few days ago, any coach would be foolish not to include his in their roster.

Mohamed Salah - Image courtesy of arabnews.com
Mohamed Salah – Image courtesy of arabnews.com

The Egyptian’s other well-tested players include Arsenal’s Mohammed El Neny; Al Ahly’s Ahmed Fathy; West Bromwich Albion’s Ahmed Hegazi, Aston Villa’s Ahmed El Mohamady with goalkeeper Essam El Hadary expected to become the oldest player to play at the World Cup if he does get selected to start in June 2018.

Team Manager/Coach: In Hector Cuper, they have an unrelenting coach who’s been with the team since 2015 and saw them reach the Africa Cup of Nations Final in 2017 losing to Cameroon. Egypt’s main undoing will be a lack of international exposure for some of its players. The religious rites of the Ramadhan may also come into play.

Group A includes hosts Russia, Uruguay and fellow Arab state Saudi Arabia.

Our Prediction: Advance to 2nd Round and possibly the Quarter-Finals.
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2. Nigeria
(FIFA Ranking – 47th world; 6th in Africa)
Fondly known as Super Eagles – note the word Super, showing the cockiness of the West African brothers. This will be their 6th outing having represented Africa in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014 and now in 2018. Physically they have one of the strongest teams given, but as we’d know, the World Cup is not about the strongest team on the day.
Only Cameroon has qualified for more World Cups from the continent.

It has been a formidable team in each of the World Cups with the 1994 and 1998 more memorable as in each of the two they qualified to the 2nd round.

The squad has a good mix of experienced players including captain John Obi Mikel who plies his trade in China’s Tianjin Teda, Victor Moses – Chelsea; Alex Iwobi – Arsenal; Kelechi Iheneacho – Leicester City and Elderson Echiejile – Cercle Brugge from Belgium.

X-Factor: John Obi Mikel – on a good day he can initiate attacks and play well with the frontline of Victor Moses, Iheneacho and Iwobi to finish off the game.

John Obi Mikel - Image courtesy of Jollof Sports
John Obi Mikel – Image courtesy of Jollof Sports

Their main challenge has been player disunity in previous tournaments, as well as delayed payments in allowances and bonuses. The team has also had the unlucky streak of losing in the group stages in the last 2 consecutive World Cups. If they can cross that bridge this time, who knows they might be Africa’s first nation in the semi-finals…or as Daniel Amokachi said purpose to win the World Cup?

Team Manager/Coach: After working with Nigerian managers, the Nigerian Football Federation settled on German’s Gernat Rohr – who’s previously managed Burkina Faso, Gabon and Togo national teams.

Group D pits them against Argentina, Croatia and Iceland – one of the toughest groups!

Our Prediction: Advance to 2nd Round and Quarter-Finals
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3. Morocco
(FIFA Ranking: 42nd world and 4th in Africa)
The Atlas Lions were the first African country to win a group match in 1986, going on to qualify for the 2nd round only to be eliminated by West Germany.

Morocco jersey and shorts - Image courtesy of adidas.com
Morocco jersey and shorts – Image courtesy of adidas.com

Their main undoing would be the lack of World Cup experience being only their third time and first in over 30 years. The team is also drawn against Spain and Portugal – who emerge as favorites to move to the 2nd round. The other team is Iran in Group B.

Group B consists of Spain, Portugal and Iran.

The team has a mix of players plying their trade in the European leagues as well as a sprinkling of Moroccan homegrown talent. Most of its players maybe unknown but such is the tag that makes them lethal as they were in 1986.

The team also qualified conceding only one goal, showing the defensive depth.

Team Manager/Coach: The current manager is Frenchman Herve Renard who has previously coached the Zambian and Ivory Coast national teams.

Our Prediction: Group stages (either finish tied 2nd, losing out on goal difference or 3rd in the group).
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4. Tunisia
(FIFA Ranking – 14th world and 1st in Africa)
The Carthage Eagles – come into the 2018 WC in their fourth time of asking having been at the 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2006 edifices. The team has a heritage of upsetting the form book in its first outing beating Mexico 3-1 in Argentina in 1978 as well as drawing in the same tournament with West Germany.

Subsequent participation has not yielded much but this can be the source of strength to draw from. The under-dog tag works well for a well-gelled team which plays under the radar of its main opponents.

Tunisia National Team - image courtesy of fifa.com
Tunisia National Team – image courtesy of fifa.com

Group G’s made up of Belgium, England and Panama. The former two form the favorites to win the group. It will take more than a sterling performance to get through to the second and subsequent rounds.

Team Manager/Coach: Nabil Maaloul is entrusted with guiding the team to a favorable performance compared to the previous outings. He’s one of only two of African’s coaches from their home nation.

Our Prediction: Group Stages
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5. Senegal
(FIFA Ranking: 28th worldwide and 2nd in Africa)
Famously known as The Lions of Teranga their proudest WC moment was shocking the defending champions France in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea & Japan, and will look for the same inspiration to get them through this time.
In 2002, thanks to their sterling performance and a second round knock-out ‘golden goal’ they managed to become the 2nd African country to sail to the quarter-finals only to be knocked out in the same fashion.
The team is made up of members plying their trade in top flight football in England and France including; Sadio Mane- Liverpool, Cheikhou Kouyate – West Ham United, Diafrra Sakho of Rennes, Moussa Konate – Amiens and Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli.

Group H  other members include: Colombia, Japan and Poland.

Sadio Mane celebrates goal with Senegalese teammates - Image courtesy of Getty Images
Sadio Mane celebrates goal with Senegalese teammates – Image courtesy of Getty Images

X-Factor: The foursome of Kalidou Koulibaly at the back; Cheikhou Kouyate and Idrissa Gana Gueye in the middle and Sadio Mane at the front form a formidable core of the team.

Team Manager/Coach: Aliou Cisse – who captained the team in 2002 comes back as team manager and hopes to inspire the team from the bench to better the performance.
Our Prediction: Advance to 2nd Round and depending on their opponents, could play in the Quarter-Finals for a 2nd time.
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2010 Africa Cup of Nations – Are we ready for the World Cup?

With the tournament coming to a close last night with the Egyptians winning the trophy a third time in as many times crowning a sterling performance from much of the homegrown talent.
Having been threatened by the initial attacks on the Togolese team (which has since been banned from CAF tournaments, absurd if you ask me…), the tournament had a hot-cold feel to it which meant there were spectacular moments but also the usual drawl that such tournaments have. These are our take-outs worth noting;

1. Security – this has becoming of paramount importance since the 1972 Olympics when Israel lost some of its members to a fundamentalist group. This should have been avoided at the start if the Angolan authorities had not overlooked the fact of Cabinda being a potential trouble-spot. Future tournament organisers will also need to notify the countries available means of entry into their countries to avoid such travesties as endured by the Togolese team.

2. Sponsors – for once most the companies who sponsored the tournament made an effort to localise even their communication using largely African players and people too. This is a boon to the fledging industries in sports, advertising and marketing which couple together to make it possible to enjoy the tournaments.
A mention too for the SuperSport sportscasters for adding the African flair to their wardrobe. Though some people looked awkward in the flowing designs, it was refreshing to see the change from the more formal polo shirts to the truly African wear.

3. Timing – not seemingly supporting the European team managers, the tournament needs to have a longer period between one and the next tournament. Though CAF’s Issa Hayatou , thinks otherwise, the level of competition would be heightened if there is a wider period and also allow for the players to give their best as compared to what they currently have to endure. Some of the main contenders had to contend with 4-6 players of the first team injured.
Again the pressures on the host country have all been there to see, like Burkina Faso in 1998 and Mali in 2002. Though FIFA has made the changes into an odd year,so as to see the possibility of not clashing with the European and World Cups, the work is cut out for the CAF officials.

4. Trophy Design – Now that Egypt has won the trophy 3 consecutive times, does the old tradition of keeping the trophy stand? If it does, it’s about time CAF developed a more representative and iconic trophy. The current World Cup is a good starting point.

5. Stadium Management – It was clear that most of the stadia were being used for the first time and the toll on some of them made it hard to train and play at the same time. Taking us back to the 3rd point, the organisers ought to give the host country ample time to develop the stadia and also test them with local or international fixtures. That way no excuses of not training at the same grounds will be heard like what we had in the Angolan tournament.

6. Africa Cup of Nations cum World Cup qualifiers – judging from the performance of most countries that qualified for the World Cup, it shows the need to have it held every 3-4 years. Though 3 of the countries qualified for the semi-finals, the lacklustre performances in the group stages and the quarter & semi-finals depict a worrying picture. Unless the countries pick themselves up and play with serious passion and technical approach, I don’t see anywhere more than 2 countries going into the second round of the World Cup.

7. Local vs international tacticians – Once again, we argue the case for local coaches taking the national teams. Look at Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria, though the latter two didn’t win anything substantial, the use of local coaches showed why we need to do away with the notion that expatriates will make our game. What’s even more interesting is the fact that much of the Egyptian team had players from their local league. I wonder how they lost the WC qualifiers again…
(Don’t you just love it?)
I’m sure the South African LOC for the World Cup has been camping at the Angola cities taking notes. I don’t foresee the two tournaments ever coming into such close proximity as it has this year. Thus South Africans, you’ve the work cut out for you !