As the Russia 2018 World Cup kicks off today, it becomes imperative we look at what bookmakers may see to be unrealistic with African teams in this edition. Is it possible for the 5 African teams representing Africa in the World Cup to reach the round of 16 in Russia, that is one big question that may interest you.
Brazil 2014 was the first time in the history of the World Cup, where two African countries (Nigeria and Algeria) reached the round of 16 and the duo were sent parking courtesy of two European nations, France and Germany respectively.
While Germany beat Algeria 2-1 to progress to the quarterfinal, France sent Nigeria parking after a 2-0 victory that marked the end of Nigeria who came to the tournament as African champions.
In 2014, bookmakers and critics probably did not give two Africa countries a chance to progress, but it came to pass. Algeria’s loss to Belgium in their opener did not weigh them down, they handed North Korea a shocking 4-2 victory in their second match, and forced Russia to a 1-1 draw making them scale through to the round of 16.
On the other hand, Nigeria started off with a 0-0 draw against Iran, handed debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina a 1-0 victory and eventually lost on 3-2 to Argentina, but scaled through with four points following Iran’s 3-1 loss to Bosnia and Herzegovina in their final group match.
In Russia 2018, Africa will be more determined and want to improve on her 2014 World Cup performance, the burden bearers here are Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia. Of these five teams, only Egypt and Tunisia are yet to reach the round of 16, while Nigeria, Senegal and Morocco have all reached the round of 16 respectively in 1994, 2002 and 1986.
Interestingly, none of the African teams is current African champion and that leaves them with lots of responsibilities as they go to Russia to rewrite history.
Egypt will slug it out in their group with host Russia, former World Champions Uruguay and Saudi Arabia. They will have to prove that they are no more a team meant for the group stage only, and in doing this it means that they will need the last point to scale through, irrespective of who is in that group.
Morocco who beat Portugal 3-1 in 1986 to become the first African country to reach the round of 16 will face Portugal again in Russia 2018. While bookmakers have passed a verdict against Morocco, Portugal will come into that match with memories of their last encounter and the North American will just need to prove a point, irrespective of who will be in the Portuguese team.
Nigeria will be meeting their regular World Cup group “enemy-friend” Argentina in the last stage of the group match. It will be more realistic if they have secured qualification before that match. But that also means they will have to prove FIFA ranking wrong by defeating Croatia and Iceland before their encounter with Argentina.
Senegal will be in a different World in their group, where they will let the World know that their return to the World Cup after reaching the quarterfinal stage in 2002 is no joke. Japan, Poland and Colombia will have to face a tough one against the African side, and they will be looking forward to repeat what they did then after causing an upset against France.
Tunisia have never reached the knockout stage of the FIFA World Cup after four appearances, the main reason they have to brace up and be prepared to make history in Russia when they file out in their group matches against Belgium, England and Panama.
The desire to have five African countries reach the round of 16 in Russia is a starting point for Africa, it will send signals to the western world and further give room for African countries to meet at the world cup proper. More importantly, European big teams will be the ones to suffer.