Dark times for the African continent

As I write this, Africa’s quest for glory at the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia has got off to an awful start.

Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria have all failed to pick up a single point.

Egypt and Morocco were both a little unfortunate, in the sense that there defeats came with last-gasp winners for both Uruguay and Iran. The Pharaohs goalkeeper Mohamed el-Shenawy certainly didn’t deserve Jose Gimenez’ 89th-minute winner, after a string of excellent saves were enough to earn him the Man-of-the-Match award. Still, it was hard to argue against the overall result as Hector Cuper’s side were on the back foot for much of the 90 minutes, mostly content to soak up the pressure, with little attacking threat of their own in the absence of the injured Mohamed Salah.

Hopefully Salah is fully fit again, as he has been declared, when Egypt take on hosts Russia today. The Russians, by contrast to the Pharaohs, were full of attacking verve in their World Cup opener, though Saudi Arabia, it must be said, were incredibly poor. Cuper’s side can reassure themselves that Uruguay are the strongest side in Group A, but they will still need to pick up the pace against Russia.

Morocco can have no claim to have lost to the group favourites, when they went down 1-0 to Iran in their Group B opener. Coach Herve Renard ould only look on forlornly as his side failed to capitalise on a good start to the game, and ended up in a scrappy affair that looked to be heading for a draw, until Moroccan striker Aziz Bouhaddouz put through his own net.

With Portugal and Spain still to play in the group, Morocco are going to need a miracle to get out of this group now. Both Portugal and Spain were impressive in their 3-3 draw on Friday night. Cristiano Ronaldo’s late equaliser, completing his hat-trick, meant Portugal were probably happier with the result, though it was also a decent point for Spain, given that they sacked head coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the competition.

For all of Egypt, and even Morocco’s woes, however, by far the worst African performance of the weekend came from Nigeria, who were abysmal as they went down 2-0 to Croatia. There was simply no creativity from the Super Eagles in attack, and Gernot Rohr is going to have to tweak his tactics ahead of Friday’s meeting with Iceland. Nigeria will surely need the three points against Iceland, but that will be a far from easy task against a side that impressed in their 1-1 draw with Argentina.

That result was one of a several surprises in the first few days of the World Cup, the biggest of which was undoubtedly Germany’s loss to Mexico. Joachim Loew’s side need to now avoid the fate of the last three European World Cup winners – France, Italy and then Spain – who all went out of the subsequent World Cup finals at the group stages.

Even if Tunisia did lose to England last night, meanwhile, there is still one more chance for Africa, as Senegal face Poland in Group H this afternoon. Can the Teranga Lions make an early mark on Russia 2018?

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