Africa entered the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia with a strong representation from Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. There was much hope on the continent that Africa will perform better this time than any other time in history. Some even predicted that Pele’s dream of an African team winning the World Cup by year 2000 would come to materialize in his lifetime – this year in Russia, even though 18 years late.
However, the startup to the African campaign faced an uphill task. Let us review how each of the 5 African football giants performed at the World Cup:
Egypt – The Pharaohs
Egypt opened Africa’s 2018 World Cup gate with a game against Uruguay on 15th June in Group A. However, it was a bad start. They lost to Uruguay 0-1. They played against the host Russia in their second game and lost 1-3. They played their final game against Saudi Arabia and lost to them 1-2. Thus, the Pharaohs lost all their matches, fetching zero points.
Morocco – Atlas Lions
Morocco was the second African team to play at the 2018 World Cup, in Group B. They started their campaign on the same day as Egypt, but later. They played against Iran and lost 0-1. In their second game, they played against Portugal and also lost 0-1. They performed better in its last game by drawing with Spain 2-2. Thus, Morocco fetched only one point in their World Cup campaign.
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Nigeria – Super Eagles
Nigeria was the third African team to play at the 2018 World Cup, in Group C. They played against Croatia on 16th June and lost 0-2. They gained consolation at their second game by winning against Iceland 2-0. They eventually succumbed to Argentina 1-2.
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Tunisia – Carthage Eagles
After Nigeria, Tunisia entered the fray against England but lost 1-2. They upped their game but still lost 2-5 against the powerful Belgium. However, they had a consolation 2-1 win against Panama.
Senegal – The Lions of Teranga
The last African team to start the campaign was Senegal, which started with a 2-0 win against Poland. They held a 2-2 draw against Japan before being eliminated by Colombia 0-1.
Team performance analysis
Egypt was the worst African performer in this World Cup. They never scooped a point and only managed to score 2 goals. The Pharaohs are not new to the World Cup, as they have made 2 appearances previously. The absence of Mohammed Salah from the first game bruised their hopes, as he was the team’s leading star in their qualifying campaign, scoring 7 out of the 10 goals scored and assisting two. He succumbed to a shoulder injury sustained in the UEFA Champions League Final.
However, even without injury and in his best form, it remains doubtful they would have gone far since his individual effort could not have compensated for the team’s overall lackluster performance. Egypt was the first African team to play at the World Cup way back in 1934. Apart from 2018, they have also made an appearances in 1990. They have the dubious record of never winning at the world cup in their 84-year World Cup history.
Morocco played well, save for lack of reliable scorers. Compared to Egypt, they had tougher teams in their group – Spain and Portugal. However, they made a poor start by scoring an own goal against Iran in the last minute, which injured their hopes. After a 20 year hiatus, Morocco made their 5th appearance at World Cup in Moscow. Previous appearances include Mexico (1970 and 1986), USA (1994), and France (1998).
Nigeria presented the youngest squad them all, featuring 18 players who were playing in the World Cup for the first time. Looking at their performance, they largely played well. However, like all the African teams in this World Cup, they lacked reliable goal scorers. They experienced slow starts in their first halves and great fatigue towards the end of their second halves. Unlike Nigeria’s previous World Cup campaigns, this was not a star-studded team. However, compared to previous teams, they showed greater team spirit. This was Nigeria’s 6th World Cup appearance. Other previous appearances include 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010, and 2014.
Tunisia performed relatively well, but like Egypt, they didn’t show their best form. However, unlike Egypt, they faced very strong teams – England and Belgium. Nonetheless, they emerged top scorers in the African campaign with 5 goals from 3 games. Tunisia has made its 5th World Cup appearance in Moscow. Its previous appearances include 1978, 1998, 2002, and 2006. Tunisia also holds the reputation of having been the first African team to win a World Cup match.
After a streak of losses by compatriots in their first games, Africa looked up to Senegal to break the bad luck. They did not disappoint. They opened Africa’s first win in 2018 World Cup against a Poland. Though they looked superior to Japan, their poor finishing resulted into a draw. This cleared off the safety guard they could have had in case they performed badly against Colombia. While they tied with Japan both in points and scores, they became the first team to lose on the ‘fair play’ rule in which they were eliminated based on the number of yellow cards they got – 6 yellow cards against Japan’s 4 yellow cards. This was the Lions of Teranga’s second appearance at the World Cup. They had not appeared in World Cup since their epic Quarter Finals performance in 2002, in Japan.
North –vs- South World Cup History
Looking at appearances and performances, the North made early appearances in the World Cup than the South. However, the South has been more impactful than the North. No North African team has ever made an appearance at Semi Finals. On the other hand, the south has made three appearances at the Quarter Finals – Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002), and Ghana (2010).
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Going into the tournament, there were high hopes Africa could build on its display in Brazil in 2014 when two teams – Nigeria and Algeria – reached the second round for the first time.
Instead, the continent will be wondering where it went wrong as its 15 games resulted in 10 defeats, two draws and just three wins. This is Africa’s worst performance in 36 years, since 1982 when no team qualified for the knockout stage.
Outlook – Qatar 2022
Africa still has great hopes for Qatar 2022. Teams from the South will be the ones to watch. The North does not seem to have radically changed its game over the years. However, the South presents pleasant surprises and have been the teams challenging the most at World Cups. There are always positive changes in the teams that appear – the only drawback is lack of organization. This is primarily due to poor management of the South’s teams.
Contrary to the past, this time round there have been no squabbles and protests over unpaid allowances. This means that team management has greatly improved. Nigeria has great promise for having a young team, which will have gained sufficient experience to play better in their next appearance. Senegal and Tunisia broke from the African tradition by employing local coaches in their World Cup campaign. This is a trend that the rest of African teams should emulate. However, there is a need to invest deliberately in training and equipping African coaches so that the immense benefits of this trend can be realized.
Africa still has great opportunities in future World Cups. More African players are exposed to international tournaments now than ever before. Africa does not lack great football talents. All it lacks is proper organization, sufficient resource allocation, transparency, and accountability.