Africa’s hopes of making a mark at Russia are already hitting the rocks, as teams disappointed in their opening fixtures.
Senegal look to have saved the day for African teams in the opening round, with a 2-1 win against Poland, but in general it’s been a poor start for the teams representing the continent in Russia.
Did we envisage a better story than this? Or is the difficulty in reconciling our expectations with the reality?
Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia all fell at the first hurdle, and seriously need to punch above their weight if they are to make it to the next stage of the competition.
The African contingent can take solace from the fact that this FIFA World Cup has produced some unpredictable results. Argentina’s drew with Iceland, defending champions Germany lost to Mexico by a lone goal and Brazil drew 1-1 with Switzerland.
Call it a slow start, but the story so far suggest there are no minnows in football anymore. Grit, hard work and tactical discipline is triumphing over talent.
So how do the African teams navigate the rest of the fixtures to make their mark at Russia?
Egypt are all but out of the tournament after losing their second game against the hosts.
Originally without their most talented figure, Mohammed Salah, the North African side lost their first game against Uruguay after conceding a lat goal from a set piece.
The Pharaohs’ next fixture was against host nation Russia, who had started on a flying note with a 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia. Egypt and Africa were buoyed by the news of the return of their most influential player in Salah, but despite scoring from the penalty spot wth a strike of which Lionel Messi will have been envious, he was unable to carry them through.
Morocco gave Iran their first win in the history of the FIFA World Cup after 77th minute substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz headed a free kick into his own net in the fifth minute of injury time in Saint Petersburg.
It was the most heart breaking result so far from an African perspective, and it was a game they needed to win in this tough group.
Up next is Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. The Ballon’d’Or winner is currently atop the list of goal scorers alongside Russia’s Denis Cheryshev, after putting three goals past David De Gea in the much awaited fixture against Spain.
Ronaldo will definitely see this game as an opportunity to increase his tally.
The Atlas Lions are in a spot of bother, but there is hope in their youthful squad. Morocco can draw inspiration from Iceland who were successful in keeping Argentina’s array of attacking talents at bay.
This is the moment the nation will be expecting Herve Renard’s to prove his tactical wit, as has been seen previously on the African continent.
Renard is an optimistic guy and believe in his ability. He is not a manager that gives up. Team effort, sweat and discipline will be among the phrases he will be sounding to his team.
In Africa, Nigeria represented the continent’s main hope of making it to the quarter-final stage.
But the Super Eagles have got huge problems in defence and are currently struggling in attack. Nigeria lie at the bottom of Group D after losing their opening fixture against Croatia in Kaliningrad.
They face Iceland in their second game of the tournament but seriously need to pull their act together.
They had no sense of belief in the first half of game against Croatia, and only become a threat after going down 2-0.
Iceland’s result against Argentina mean Nigeria cannot afford to be complacent this time round, as anything other than a win puts their campaign in jeopardy.
Nigeria will need to perform better in defence, but it is more important that they do so in attack. Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Moses all failed to inspire last time out.
Argentina found it difficult to unhinge the Iceland defence, so the Super Eagles would need to be craftier in search of goals.
Iceland tested their strength against West African side Ghana in a 2-2 friendly draw prior to the tournament, and will hope it will stand them in good stead.
The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia almost stunned England in their opening game at the Volgograd Arena. It was a pulsating game which saw both teams exhibit their attacking threat.
Tunisia are the least fancied side among the five African teams participating. Nobody gave them a chance against England, but they proved to be a more promising side than anyone thought.
Next, they will come up against a swashbuckling Belgium side who put Panama to the sword three times in the opening fixture.
It’s hard to imagine the North African side beating Belgium, but they can take confidence in their display against England. if they keep it tight at the back they may be able to secure a draw, while hoping England will drop points against Panama.