Battling to surpass expectations: The story of African teams in Russia

No African soccer team has ever reached the World Cup semi-finals. For the 2018 tournament in Russia, five strong teams could change that. But it’s not going to be an easy feat.

Ghana almost made it in 2010 in South Africa. The West African country was close to fulfilling the dream of Africans to finally advance to World Cup semi-finals. The game had already entered extra time when Ghana’s Stephen Appiah kicked the ball towards Uruguay’s goal. Luis Suarez blocked it at the goal line, but Dominic Adiyiah headed the ball towards the goal.

The ball was not caught by Uruguay’s goalkeeper but by Suarez, who used his hands to stop the ball. Suarez was subsequently given a red card; Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan failed to score penalty. The following penalty shootout was then won by Uruguay, thus ending Ghana’s chances to reach semi-finals.

Two other African teams have so far reached quarter-finals: Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. Both lost during extra time.

Hopes are high for 2018: Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia all qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Nigeria

It’s the sixth time Nigeria is participating in the tournament, which makes the Super Eagles a regular World Cup player, only missing out on one tournament since 1994.

While drawing a difficult qualifying group, the Super Eagles around captain John Obi Mikel (30) and midfielder Victor Moses (26) were able to defeat Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria.

But due to poor performance in preceding years, Nigeria was placed in a weaker pot at the draw held in Russia, and ended up in a group with Croatia, Iceland and Argentina.

Nigeria has played against Argentina four times during previous World Cups, and lost every single game. German trainer Gernot Rohr has said he aims to at least “give a good performance and show high morale.”

Morocco

Morocco will be participating in a World Cup for the fifth time; however, its last tournament was in 1998.

In the last qualifying round, the Atlas Lions led by captain Mehdi Benatia (30) won every match without conceding a goal, to the chagrin of Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali. The man behind these brilliant tactics was French trainer Herve Renard, who has won the Africa Cup twice: with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.

Morocco was seeded with Spain, European Championship winner Portugal and Iran in the World Cup draw for 2018.

Egypt

Egypt is the most successful national team on the African continent, having won the Africa Cup of Nations multiple times. It’s the third time for the North African country to participate in the World Cup; the last time Egypt played in 1990.

The Pharaohs beat Uganda, Ghana and the Republic of Congo to qualify for Russia. They only scored eight goals in six games. Trainer Hector Cuper from Argentina has been heavily criticized for his defensive game, but was vindicated by success: his team won 20 out of 30 games.

And compared to other African teams, the Pharaohs drew a less difficult lot, having been seeded with host Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay.

The team’s star is Mohamed Salah (25), who plays for FC Liverpool. If he manages to score a goal, the Pharaohs might make it to the second round for the first time ever.

Tunisia

Tunisia too has not yet been able to survive the groups’ stage, in spite of participating in five World Cups. The Carthage Eagles qualified without losing a single game. But their opponents – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea – were not the strongest competition. Defeating Belgium, England and Panama will be more difficult.

Senegal

Senegal ranks 23 on the FIFA world ranking, making it the highest ranked of all African teams.

This is only the second time for Senegal to play in a World Cup. In 2002, during the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, Aliou Cisse led the team as captain. Today he serves as their trainer.

The Lions qualified by defeating South Africa, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde.

The draw placed them in a balanced group, together with Poland, Colombia and Japan. The team around star player Sadio Mane (25), also from Liverpool, has a good chance of reaching the next stage – the round of 16.

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