FT World Cup 2018: The Hopes of Africa Must Soar with the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia
The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia has been nothing short of exciting. We have enjoyed bitter losses, heroic efforts, controversial decisions by the match officials among other dramatic moments that can be expected in such a prestigious tournament. The latter is still yet to catch up with the African teams as 3 of 5 teams have already played their first matches and have already tasted defeat.
First up, it was Egypt. A justifiable reason for their loss was the injured Mohamed Salah, who failed to make it onto to the pitch and wow the fans with his dazzling sprints and his calm and collected goal-scoring ability. The Pharaohs fell to a narrow 1-0 loss at the hands of fellow Group A members Uruguay on matchday 2. This saddened not only the helpless Salah, who was watching from the bench but also the whole continent of Africa who has high expectations on all of the teams participating in this year’s competition.
Morocco’s case was no different. They succumbed to a 1-0 defeat thanks to the well-organized defending of the Iranian team. This might come as a surprise to someone who knows what Benatia’s teammates are capable of. Morocco really had it all in one basket from kick-off. They came to play, and play they did. They dominated the match and barely gave Iran any chance until late on. What broke the hearts of the hundreds of millions of fans watching the game was the way in which the match slipped out of their hands. An own goal by Bouhaddouz in the 95th minute sealed the victory for a very fortunate Iranian side. At this kind of tournament, you cannot afford to lift your foot off the gas. They were made to pay for their lapse in concentration, and the result will paint a bad picture in the minds and hearts of the fans. That is a lesson learned for them.
Nigeria came in on the third try. They took on Luka Modric’s Croatian side, but their fate was sealed in less than five mins into the match. Playing an opening match can be nerve-wracking, as was the case for Nigeria who looked nothing like the team that put up a fight against England in the friendlies not so long ago. Nigeria looked uncomfortable, unprepared and it was just a matter of time before the Croatians would humble them. Like Morocco, Nigeria conceded an own goal on the 32nd minute before Luka Modric scored a penalty to make it 2-0 to Croatia. Why is it that they lost, you may ask. Because of three main reasons, i.e. nerves, the tactical approach to the match, and a poor performance from the leaders of the team. The coach failed to prepare the team for the game and made some questionable substitutions throughout the 90 minutes. A lot more could be offered by the likes of Mikel, Iwobi, Moses, and Ndidi. Surely, this humbling experience should work as a learning curve for Nigeria and the other two African nations that are still yet to play.
Things are not looking good for Africa thus far at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. Not all hope is lost though, with Tunisia and Senegal still yet to play. It piles more pressure on them to do better than the teams mentioned above. Tunisia and Senegal have seen it all by this stage and should be prepared to battle with their lives like Morocco did but cannot afford to drop their concentration levels. Managers have to do their part and select their best players and make sure that they set up in a formation that allows them to contribute to the best of their abilities. Star players have to lead by example and influence the games into their favor. Defenders cannot afford to make costly errors like own-goals in the remaining matches. A big question mark is on how Tunisia will fare without their best player, Msakni, who is missing from the game due to injury. Will they respond to this loss the same way Egypt did without Salah or will they take ownership of the performance and make sure that they will be leading by the time the referee blows the whistle at the end of 90 minutes.