The big five: Africa's WC representatives
Posted: 14 November 2017 Time: 18:45
KickOff.com reviews the 'Road to Russia' of the five nations representing Africa, while analysing individual players to look out for at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Tunisia booked their tickets to Russia from Group A, which featured DR Congo, Libya and Guinea, finishing on 14 points from six games. The Eagles of Carthage went through the campaign unbeaten, and effectively sealed their place with an emphatic 4-1 victory away to Guinea in their penultimate group encounter in October this year.
The 28th-ranked nation in the world – the highest in Africa, according to FIFA from 16 October 2017, will next year partake in their fifth World Cup finals in their history, and their first since Germany 2006, when they were eliminated at the group stage. Tunisia have only registered one win at the global showpiece, which came back at Argentina 1978.
Coach Nabil Maaloul’s star players include 26-year-old midfielder Wahbi Khazri, who is currently on loan at French Ligue 1 side Rennes from Premier League club Sunderland, and 27-year-old Youssef Msakni of Qatari-based side Al-Duhail. Khazri has scored 11 goals in 35 appearances for Tunisia, and once in their recent qualification campaign, with Msakni recently bagging a hat-trick against Guinea.
A youngster to look out for is 23-year-old central midfielder Ghaylene Chaalali, who currently plays for Esperance. Chaalali made his debut in a 2019 AFCON qualifier in June, and scored his first international goal in a crucial World Cup qualifying win over DR Congo in Sepetember.
Nigeria made it through the ‘group of death’ as they booked their 2018 World Cup spot ahead of continental powerhouses Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria. The Super Eagles accumulated 14 points from six games and went through the campaign without suffering a single defeat.
Currently ranked 41st in the world and fifth in Africa, Nigeria will be making their sixth apperance at the global finals, and their third consecutive appearance since South Africa 2010. Their best finish was the round of 16, which they achieved at USA 1994, France 1998 and at the 2014 spectacle in Brazil.
Arguably their best players are the experienced duo of Tianjin Teda midfielder John Obi Mikel and Chelsea forward-cum-defender Victor Moses, who have amassed nearly 150 senior international caps between them and both chipped in with goals in the World Cup qualification campaign.
A youngster to look out for in Gernot Rohr’s side is 21-year-old striker Kelechi Iheanacho, who has seven goals in 13 senior national team appearances thus far. Iheanacho spent two seasons at Premier League giants Manchester City before joining Leicester City in the pre-season transfer window.
Morocco made it through another difficult qualification group, which included the likes of Ivory Coast, Gabon and Mali, as they managed 12 points from six games without conceding a single goal in the entire campaign.
The Atlas Lions have qualified for their first World Cup in 20 years, having last featured in France 1998, and will make their fifth finals appearance in Russia next year. Their best finish came back at Mexico 1986, when they were knocked out at the round of 16.
The 48th-ranked nation in the world, and seventh best on the continent, are lead by esteemed French coach Herve Renard, who famously led two different nations to the AFCON title – with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.
The most influential players for Morocco is arguably their captain and Juventus defender Medhi Benatia, and vice-captain and midfielder Mbark Boussoufa, who plays for UAE-based Al-Jazira. Both players have over 50 senior caps, and played key roles in the team’s journey to Russia.
A youngster to look out for is 24-year-old Ajax Amsterdam attacking midfielder Hakim Ziyech, who has seven goals in 13 senior international appearances thus far. Ziyech scored twice in Morocco’s 6-0 drubbing of Mali in October this year.
Senegal have made it to Russia 2018 ahead of South Africa, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde after FIFA’s controversial decision to order a replay of their 2-1 defeat to Bafana Bafana in November 2016. The Lions of Teranga sealed their place with a 2-0 win in the replay, having accumulated 10 points from five games.
Ranked 32nd in the world and third on the African continent, they will be making only their second ever appearance at the World Cup finals, and their first since South Korea/Japan 2002, where they made it all the way to the quarter-finals.
Coach Aliou Cisse boasts a star-studded team with players based in top leagues all across Europe, but Senegal’s go-to man will undoubtedly be 25-year-old Liverpool winger Sadio Mane, while midfield anchorman and captain Cheikhou Kouyate will also play a key role in the centre of the park.
Monaco forward Keita Balde is Senegal’s upcoming youngster, who graduated from the esteemed Barcelona youth academy. The 22-year-old winger has three goals in 16 senior international appearances thus far.
Egypt were in for a tough fight for top spot in Group E, with Uganda and Ghana eventually cancelling one another out, as the Pharaohs rose to the occasion with a last-gasp penalty in stoppage time to beat Congo 2-1 in their penultimate qualifying fixture. They accumulated 13 points from six matches, with the least number of goals scored – eight.
The 30th-ranked side in the world, and second on the continent, will be making only their third ever World Cup appearance in Russia, and their first in 28 years, since last featuring in Italy 1990. They have yet to progress beyond the group stages, or even register a win at the global showpiece.
Hector Cuper’s star men include 25-year-old Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, who has 32 goals in 56 senior international appearances and scored five goals during the qualifying campaign, as well as 25-year-old Arsenal defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny, who has 58 caps.
Egypt’s youngster to watch is 20-year-old Ramadan Sobhi, who currently plies his trade with Premier League side Stoke City. Sobhi, who plays mostly at left-wing, has made 21 international appearances and featured in all six World Cup qualifiers.