29th June 2018 , two weeks and the World Cup’s biggest extravaganza takes it’s first break as it gets to the knock-out round. Funny how time flies fast when you’re having fun. It’s been a flurry of action, emotions, disappointment and triumph depending on where your interests lie.
As promised, we’ll look at the 5 best moments so far from the World Cup action in Russia thus far. Let’s get kickin’;
Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland(Group H): Being only their second World Cup, Senegal came into this with a steely determination to prove they are no mere walkovers. In 2002, they started with the famous win over France.
In 2018, Poland was more fancied and at worst, the game was likely to be a draw. The Lions of Teranga had other ideas – even with the contentious second goal that the Polish team bitterly complained about.
South Korea’s win 2-0 over Germany in Group F: South Korea qualified for the 2018 WC for the 9th consecutive time. They have been one of the hardest working teams with the players showing a rare work rate and runs all over the pitch. As Manuel Neuer of Germany who made the mistake of chasing a goal for Germany only to leave an empty net for Son Heung-Min. That the Koreans were already on their way out but still found the strength to score 2 goals in added/injury time speaks volumes. Germany continued ignominy of defending World Cup champions eliminated in the first round ( joining Spain from 2014, Italy in 2010 and France in 2002).
Portugal and Spain’s 3-3 draw in Group B: Being among the first games of the championship, there was huge expectation of a tough game for both European foes. With the current European champions Portugal facing the immediate former European champs Spain, it was a goal fest and sight to see. Helped in part by goalkeeping errors and the work ethic of top strikers Diego Costa (Spain) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) it did live up to its billing. Spain had just sacked their immediate coach and Fernando Hierro took over a team even before kicking the ball – talk of baptism by fire.
On other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo has won scored many goals and won many trophies , is it his time to pick up the world’s most recognizable one?
Iceland’s 1-1 draw with Argentina (Group D):
The Nordic state of Iceland qualified for the 2018 World Cup as one of two first-timers for the edifice. Coming up against one of the most formidable teams, favourites and 2014 finalists, Argentina seemed like an overkill for the Icelanders. Argentina’s strike force is any coach’s envy but this did not overawe the smallest state participating. To hold them to a single goal helped keep the folklore of their journey into the championship. They have one of the best fan base and who doesn’t love the viking chant, too bad they left us at the Group stages…
Russia’s 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia in Group A: Hosting an event of such magnitude is no mean feat. Coming into the championship as dark, dark horses is also not easy – your own President doesn’t have much hope in your abilities and potent. Opening the games, two substitutes later and voila! Even the loudest of critiques swallow their words. Will they settle for 2nd as Sweden did in 1958 while hosting the event? In 1978 Argentina hosted and won the World Cup. In 1998 France hosted the championships and presto won it for the first time, twenty-years on, is this Russia’s time?
1st of July, the knock-out phase OR Round of 16 starts…may the best team(s) win!
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!
5 African Country Teams
(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.
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. Kit: Red Shirts, White Shorts and Black Socks OR White/Grey Shirts and Black Shorts Official Kit Sponsor: Adidas
(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.
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 Kit: Green Shirt with White & Black Sleeves and White Shorts OR All-Black with Green trimmings Official Kit Sponsor: Nike
(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.
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). Kit: Red Pants, Black Shorts and Red Socks with White trimmings OR All-White with Red trimmings. Official Kit Sponsor: Adidas
(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.
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 Kit: White with Red trimmings OR Red with White trimmings Official Kit Sponsor: Puma
(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.
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. Kit: Green Shirts and Pants OR All-White Official Kit Sponsor: Puma