Tunisia, Morocco, Cameroon and Ghana will have to outdo themselves to reach the second round of the World Cup. As for Senegal, the team’s fate hangs on the state of Sadio Mané’s knee.
The draw has not been favourable to the five African teams qualified for the World Cup, which is due to open in Qatar on 20 November. It is only Senegal who have been relatively spared, but they don’t yet know if they will be able to count on their injured star, Sadio Mané.
Eto’o envisions his Lions on top of the world
Samuel Eto’o, the former captain and striker of the Indomitable Lions, now president of the Cameroonian Football Federation (FECAFOOT), has always seen the big picture. The man who was one of the best players in the history of African football predicted a few months ago that Cameroon would be the world champion on the evening of 18 December.
This convinced pan-African has since developed his prophecy: his country will face Morocco in the final, with an outcome we can imagine. Since it costs nothing to make predictions, Eto’o, in a recent statement, also announced the qualification of Tunisia, Senegal and Ghana for the round of 16. “The African teams have great potential, have gained more and more experience, and are ready to win the World Cup,” he said.
We would like to share, even partially, Eto’o’s optimism, even though in four final appearances with the Lions, he has never managed to get past the first round. However, the reality is likely to be less bright for the five African globalists, none of whom are at the top of the list of favourites (which includes defending champions France, Neymar’s Brazil, Lionel Messi’s Argentina, Belgium, Germany and Spain), or even among the outsiders, a motley mix of the Netherlands, Portugal, England, Denmark, Croatia and Uruguay.
Let’s start by trying to get out of this group, which will already be very complicated
When Eto’o sent his Lions to the top of the world, Mohammadou Idrissou, his former teammate in the national team, rushed to bring him to his senses. “We are going to play Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia in the first round, in other words a favourite and two good European teams; so, talking about a world title… Let’s start by trying to get out of this group, which will already be very complicated.”
The Indomitable Lions have quite a good team, including goalkeeper Andre Onana (Inter Milan), midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa (Napoli) or striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Bayern Munich). This is despite the fact that their coach, Rigobert Song, has been increasingly questioned, especially for not having held onto Michaël Ngadeu, one of his pillars.
Claude Le Roy, the former coach of Cameroon, but also of Ghana and Senegal (who are also present in Qatar) is not offended by Eto’o’s predictions, even if he qualifies them. “He is right to have ambitions and to not be pessimistic. In a group stage, anything is possible, and I think that Cameroon, Senegal and to a lesser extent Ghana can qualify. Tunisia and Morocco too, even if, because we must be objective, it will be very complicated for them.”
Senegal: With or without Mané?
Senegal may have inherited the most accessible group (Qatar, Netherlands, Ecuador), but Aliou Cissé, the coach of the Lions of Teranga, learned on 9 November that his best player, Sadio Mané, had injured his fibula during a match with Bayern Munich the day before.
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The Senegalese star, runner-up in the last Ballon d’Or competition, is included in the 26-man squad, but the reigning African champions will inevitably land in the Persian Gulf, with no idea whether they will be able to count on their main asset. Cissé has a quality squad capable of progressing beyond the group stage, but his team’s task is bound to be more difficult.
Tunisia and Morocco in tough groups
The potential World Cup finalist imagined by the president of FECAFOOT – Morocco – recently changed its coach. Walid Regragui, a former Moroccan international and winner of the last Champions League as coach with WAC Casablanca, replaced Vahid Halilhodzic, who was sacked after qualifying the Atlas Lions.
As for the Tunisians […], France and Denmark, they should expect to suffer; but in football, anything is possible.
The new technical boss has recalled Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea), who was in open conflict with his predecessor, and enjoys a strong following. However, the Moroccans were not really lucky in the draw, says Le Roy.
“I think it’s the African team, along with Tunisia, that inherited the most difficult group. Croatia were finalists at the 2018 World Cup, Belgium, one of the favourites, finished third, and Canada are a particularly strong team. As for the Tunisians […], France and Denmark, they should expect to suffer; but in football, anything is possible. As Samuel Eto’o told me recently, a World Cup is a few games, not a whole season.”
Black Stars on a bad run
Ghana’s situation is not much better, with Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea in their group. The Black Stars may have knocked out Nigeria to qualify, but their last Africa Cup of Nations was a failure. Their recent games have not been met with unbridled enthusiasm and coach Otto Addo has hinted that he may leave the job after the World Cup.
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In 2018, no African team made it past the first round. In the history of the World Cup, only Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) have reached the quarter-finals. By envisioning all the continent’s representatives in the second round and two in the final, Eto’o has set the bar very high. Too high? We’ll have the answer in a few days.
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