Profiles of the Five African World Cup Teams

The Super Eagles of Nigeria. Photo by Dmitry Pukalik, CC BY

The wait is finally over! The 2018 FIFA World Cup is finally upon us, and football fans across the globe couldn’t be happier. Well, fans on the African continent might take exception since South Africa failed to qualify, and — at the time of writing — four of the five participating African teams have already suffered losses. And who couldn’t help but feel glum while watching Mo Salah forced to sit on the sidelines?

But the good news is that the fight is not over, and all five African teams are still in the hunt. Do any of them have a shot at being the first African squad to win the coveted trophy? Considering that no team from the motherland has ever made it to the World Cup semifinals, such an accomplishment would make actual history. Let’s look at the five African teams that have a shot at ultimate football glory.

Egypt

Nicknamed the “Pharaohs,” the Egyptian National team has a Confederation of African Football (CAF) ranking of 5th and a world ranking of 45th. Given all the hype surrounding their star player Mohammed Sala, it’s surprising that this will only be Egypt’s third appearance at the World Cup. They boast the distinction of having more continental titles than any other African country, having won a record seven Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophies.

It has been 28 years since the Egyptians made an appearance in the tournament, and the Pharaohs will undoubtedly be playing with lifted spirits, knowing that Salah will be fit to take the field at some point during the tourney once he’s fully recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered at the May 2018 UEFA Champions League final.

Morocco

Also known as the “Lions of the Atlas,” the Moroccan side is 4th in the CAF rankings and 41st worldwide. It will be the fifth time that the Moroccans will have qualified to participate in the tournament, with the furthest they’ve previously progressed being Round of 16 in 1986.

Recently, Morocco lost its bid to host the 2026 World Cup to the three North American nations, and two-time AFCON-winning coach Hervé Renard might have this in the back of his mind as a motivating factor. Perhaps that massive disappointment could be channeled into fuel for vengeance on football’s grandest stage. After all, the United States and Canada did not even qualify! The Lions’ star player Younes Belhanda and team captain Mehdi Benatia will undoubtedly be looking to show the world the level of talent that this team has.

Nigeria

Although the USA will not be making an appearance at this year’s tournament, the World Cup will still see eagles fly! Making their sixth appearance at the World Cup this year, the Nigerian national team (aka the “Super Eagles”) is 7th in the CAF rankings and 48th in the world rankings. Considered by many to be a possible dark horse in the tournament, Nigeria might be Africa’s best shot at victory for the continent.

Led by experienced captain John Obi Mikel and spurred by the foot of their star player Alex Iwobi, Nigeria will undoubtedly be counting on their slew of experienced players, who are otherwise scattered among various elite football teams throughout Europe. Pay attention to these guys.

Senegal

Known as the “Lions of Teranga,” the Senegalese national team is 2nd in the CAF rankings and 27th in the world. Although this will only be their second time appearing at the World Cup, fans will always remember how they heroically eliminated defending champions France in 2002 and fought their way into the quarterfinals (which is their most impressive World Cup finish). This time around, Liverpool superstar Sadio Mané stands out as their most likely hero. Although Senegal’s performance can be somewhat erratic, it also has highly-talented players who ply their trade in European leagues, and coach Aliou Cissé (who captained the legendary 2002 side) will be looking to take advantage of their depth of skill.

Tunisia

Nicknamed the “Eagles of Carthage,” the Tunisian national team has the honor of being ranked 1st by the CAF and 21st in the world. Tunisia had an impressive 2017 season, and they will be looking to continue that momentum at this year’s World Cup. It’s their fifth tournament appearance, although they have not qualified since 2006. Their superstar player is Wahbi Khazri, and they will be directed by Coach Nabil Maâloul. In his third foray as the coach for the national team at the World Cup, Maâloul will be looking to guide his resourceful, gritty and spirited team through a challenging Group G that pits them against England, Belgium and Panama.

A Challenging Month Ahead for Fans

As one can see, 2018 might be a particularly challenging year for African punters participating in online competitions like the Spin & Goal tournament. Will they choose Nigeria or Senegal? Salah or Mané? Or will they seek to find value in teams and players beyond the African continent?

In any case, African fans can all look forward to an entire month of reduced productivity as we spend the workday multitasking by listening to matches or feverishly checking the latest sports news. At the least, many of us will end up spending much more time than usual at the water cooler discussing past and upcoming fixtures. One thing we know for sure is there are five African teams with a decent shot; and no matter what might happen along the way, our continent can beam with pride while cheering them on!

 

  AUTHOR
South Coast Herald

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