With the opening match of hosts Russia against Saudi Arabia on 14 June at 17:00 hrs (Central European Summer Time) in Moscow, begins the 21st FIFA World Cup. Among the 32 participating national teams are also 5 African teams.
On the second day of the tournament, Egypt (against Uruguay) and Morocco (against Iran) have to win two important points for the two North African teams to progress to the last sixteen.
Egypt, which qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, is looking forward to progressing from the group stage thanks to a rather easy group. Should Liverpool’s world-class striker Mohammed Salah get fit after his shoulder injury, the “Pharaohs” have the striker in their squad recently voted best player in this year’s English Premier League season.
In the goal, the Egyptians rely on Essam El-Hadary, an experienced man who at 45 years could be the oldest World Cup player in history. For Morocco and his captain Medhi Benatia (Juventus Turin) it could be a lot harder to survive the preliminary round, as European champions Portugal and co-favourite Spain are tough opponents.
However, Morocco defeated Ivory Coast, one of the best African teams in the last ten years, in the World Cup qualifiers, and Coach Hervé Renard (Africa Cup winners in 2012 and 2015) is a highly respected coach in Africa.
Also highly appreciated is the German coach Gernot Rohr, who wants to re-enact Nigeria’s great successes of the 1990s.He can depend on Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Ahmed Musa (Leicester City, lent to CSKA Moscow) and Victor Moses (Chelsea London) on three stars of the Premier League.
However, Nigeria’s group is one of the most difficult and balanced, with Croatia, Iceland and Argentina. The third group game against Argentina is already a classic for the Super Eagles as such a duel has already taken place at four World Cups and in the 1996 Olympic Football Final.
The 4:2 friendly game victory over Nigeria five months ago should certainly give Messi and Co. courage. Tunisia should also play with courage after a qualifying without any defeat. To make it to the fifth round of the FIFA World Cup for the first time, will take two outstanding performances against favourites Belgium and England.
In the last group match, the team led by local coach Nabil Maaloul, plays against Panama, who qualified for the World Cup for the first time. A local coach Aliou Cissé also trains Senegal. As in Japan and South Korea in 2002, when the Lions of Teranga were defeated only in the quarterfinals by Turkey in extra time Senegal will go this year as far as possible. With Poland, Colombia and Japan waiting for the team of Liverpool superstar Sadio Mané, Senegal faces a balanced and probably very exciting group stage. Salif Sané of Hannover 96 could feature in Senegal’s defence.
Some players from the highly esteemed Premier League and experienced, partly young local coaches let the fans hope that after 1990, 2002 and 2010 an African team may get into the quarter-finals again . The final will take place on July 15 at 5pm (CEST) in Moscow.