Can 2018’s African Nations Banish The Ghosts Of World Cups Past?

Can 2018’s African Nations Banish The Ghosts Of World Cups Past?
Nov 16, 2017

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It’s a dark night in Soccer City, Johannesburg. A Sulley Muntari screamer had put Ghana ahead in a World Cup quarter-final before a Diego Forlán free kick levelled things up for Uruguay. The game went into extra time. Late into second half of extra time, Ghana fired a free kick into the box. After a brief scramble, the ball fell to Stephen Appiah with Muslera out of position. Appiah struck it at the net but it was blocked by Luis Suárez on the line. The ball floated to Dominic Adiyiah who headed back towards the goal. The shot looped over the out-of-position Muslera towards Suárez again who reached out with his hand to push it back to the keeper. It was a goal-line block, the striker was sent off and the talismanic Asamoah Gyan was left with the spot kick duties. He had the opportunity to make Ghana the first Africa nation ever to reach the World Cup semi-finals. He sent the keeper the wrong way but smashed the crossbar. Devastation. Uruguay went on to win the shootout and Ghana’s dreams were killed.

That remains the closest an African nation has come to the semi finals. This year, 5 nations have qualified for the World Cup finals in Russia; Senegal, Nigeria, Tunisia, Morocco and AFCON finalists Egypt. But which of them – if any – can write themselves into history?

 

Tunisia

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The highest ranked African nation to qualify at 28th, Tunisia qualified ahead of DR Congo with a 0-0 draw against Libya. The Eagles of Carthage were unfancied to reach their first World Cup since Germany 2006 but nevertheless, they triumphed unbeaten in a group that featured Naby Keita’s Guinea and Cedric Bakambu’s DR Congo. Their campaign peaked with their 2-1 win over the latter in Rades. If Tunisia wish to make the knockout stage for the first time in five tournaments (They have only won a single World Cup finals match), they will need Wahbi Khazri to work his magic as he has done for Rennes this season. His record of a goal every three games for his country is impressive and he will look to continue that in Russia.

 

Egypt

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Egypt took the lead in the African Nations Cup final at the start of the year through a stunning Elneny finish but ultimately lost to Cameroon. Ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Bob Bradley’s Egypt were unlucky to miss out when they failed to qualify despite winning all but two of their games. All this taking place while the domestic football league was suspended following the Port Said Stadium riot and during a period of massive political turmoil. Several of that team remain, Essam El-Hadary made his international debut in 1996 and has picked up 155 caps since then. Mohammed Elneny was brought into the national side long before he was Arsenal’s utility man and was influential in their AFCON campaign. Mohammed Salah was nominated for African player of the year for his achievements at Liverpool, Egypt and Roma. His late penalty against the Congo sent the fans into delirium as they qualified for only the 3rd time. Other recognisable faces include the pacey Ahmed Elmohamady, the towering Ahmed Hegazy, the bruising Sam Morsy and the quick-footed Ramadan Sobhi.

 

Senegal

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The second country to feature a Liverpool winger, Senegal have an abundance of players who play at a high level in Europe including the aforementioned Sadio Mané, national captain Cheikhou Kouyaté, Everton’s midfield enforcer Idrissa Gana Gueye, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Stoke’s striker-turned-wing-back Mame Diouf, Monaco’s Keita Baldé and former Watford and Milan man Mbaye Niang. The strength in their squad sets them apart from previous Senegalese national teams and it is this balance that manager Alliou Cissé will need if he is to inspire the Lions of Teranga to glory in Russia.

 

Nigeria

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The Super Eagles failed to qualify for the last two Nations Cups in 2015 and 2017 but this generation has the talent to write their own names in history. Alex Iwobi was the mastermind behind their recent 4-2 comeback win over Argentina and is very much their star man. Kelechi Iheanacho showcased his talent at Manchester City but despite his slow start at Leicester but 8 goals in just 13 caps for his country shows his impeccable attacker’s instinct, teammates Wilfried Ndidi and Ahmed Musa will also expect to play. Everton loanee Henry Onyekuru, former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel and current Chelsea wing back Victor Moses are among the other names who are expected to make the squad.

 

Morocco

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The Atlas Lions boast the African Champions League winners Wydad Casablanca – 6 of the club’s players have been called up for the national side – and thrived in their qualifying group, they did not concede a single goal in 6 games as they pipped manager Herve Renard’s former side Cote D’Ivoire and Gabon (who featured the prolific Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) to qualification. Renard won the 2015 AFCON with Les Eléphantes, becoming the first man to win it with two different sides, having completed the feat with Zambia in 2011. But his current side have talent in abundance. Their defence is shored up by skipper Medhi Benatia and Real Madrid’s promising full back Achraf Hakimi, their midfield is offered steel in Wolverhampton’s Roman Saiss and creativity in Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech, and their attack boasts Southampton ace Sofiane Boufal and Leganes’ Nordin Amrabat. Ziyech is the talisman; 7 goals in 13 caps show his performance levels for country and his form for club has been phenomenal. Earlier this year, he got a playmaker’s hat trick in the Europa League semi-final first leg against Lyon. Renard will hope the 24 year-old can emulate that.

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