With this year’s FIFA World Cup draw having been done and dusted last Friday in Doha, Qatar, fans from across the whole world are beginning to get into the tournament mode ahead of the group stage kick-off in November.
The Qatar World Cup will take place from November 21 to December 18. Among the 32 teams to battle it out for this year’s global title, five are from the African continent, namely; Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana and Cameroon. The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) champions, Senegal, face the hosts Qatar, Ecuador and Netherlands in Group, while Tunisia is drawn in Group D against Denmark and World Cup defending champions, France.
The three teams will be joined by either Peru, Australia or the United Arab Emirates (AUE) to complete the Group D very soon. Morocco is pitted against Belgium, Canada and Croatia in Group F; Cameroon against Serbia, Switzerland and the former World Cup champions Brazil, while Ghana faces Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea in Group H.
For the first time in over 15 years, the World Cup hosts will not play the first game. But there we have the Senegal versus Netherlands game to kick-off the tournament on November 21. Tunisia, on the other hand, will play an opening game of Group D against Denmark. Morocco will start with a game against Croatia, Cameroon against Switzerland and Ghana against Portugal.
While everyone is asking themselves how the African teams will fare in the tournament, Public Eye spoke to some local football experts on the possibility of the five teams making it beyond the group stages in Qatar.
“These groups are not that tight. There is no group that you can say it’s a group of death,” said the former FC Likhopo, Liphakoe and Bantu striker, Tsebang ‘Owen’ Lebata.
“If you can look at Group A, Senegal have just performed well in the recent Africa Cup of Nations (beating Egypt in the final). They have also done well against Egypt (again) to qualify for the World Cup.”
Lebata, also the former Lesotho Under-20 national team (Makoanyane XI) striker, said for Senegal winning the AFCON and qualifying for the World Cup should be a motivation going to Qatar. “So with that motive, and also considering the fact that Senegal are also a good team, they may top their group or be the runners-up and proceed to the Last 16.”
Lebata said Ghana are also not drawn in a tough group. Therefore, he said they were also likely to go beyond the group stages in Qatar. “Ghana is also not drawn in a tough group, having to play against Uruguay and South Korea. These are not tough teams (except only Portugal) so Ghana could also proceed to the last 16.”
Lebata doubted Morocco and Tunisia’s chances of proceeding to the last 16. He said the two were likely to find the going tough in Qatar, having been drawn against tricky opponents.
“Morocco and Tunisia face tricky opponents so I don’t see them going any further.” Cameroon, Lebata said, was playing well lately but there’s nothing much he could write home about going to the Qatar World Cup. Lioli Technical Adviser, Atang ‘Bob’ Mafoso, on the other hand, said Group A is going to be very tricky.
“I think amongst all other groups, Group A is going to be very tricky,” said Mafoso. “What is going to make it tricky, according to me, is the fact that it has the host nation, of which I am not even saying may be the referees’ favourites but the pressure of playing against the host will be too high for their opponents.”
Mafoso said, for example, tickets for the World Cup would be sold mostly by Qatar-based people. He said that means they would fill the stadium every time the Qatar team play. Mafoso, however, said Senegal are a promising team in Group A, after Netherlands.
“Senegal are the second ranked team in Group A after Netherlands, if we look at the current FIFA rankings, then it is followed by Ecuador and the hosts Qatar as the last team.”
Netherlands ranks number 10 on the FIFA World rankings, Senegal number 20, Ecuador number 46 and Qatar number 51. Mafoso said apart from that, Senegal also had quality players and added that is one ray of hope that they were likely to make the African continent proud in Qatar.
The former Sandawana, Bantu, Kick4Life and Makoanyane XI coach further said any country with many Europe-based players stand a chance to do well in Qatar. “I think any country with the most Europe-based players in their national teams and who play regularly in their respective European teams stand a chance to do well in the World Cup.
“I know people differ when it comes to the Europe-based players but the fact is that the biggest leagues in the world are in Europe and that’s because of the power of money that attracts the best quality to Europe, and these players would have played against each other often.”
Mafoso reiterated that Netherlands and Senegal would be the two teams to proceed to the Last 16 from Group A. “The way I see it, Netherlands and Senegal have a chance to proceed to the last 16 from Group A because of their rankings and also because of the quality of their players.” But Mafoso said this would not be the case with Tunisia, who rank number 35 in the world. “I think Tunisia will be the fourth ranked team in this group after France, Denmark and one between Peru, Australia and UAE, of which I don’t know who between them will join the group,” said Mafoso.
Tunisia’s opponents, France and Denmark rank number three and 11 respectively, while Peru ranks number 22, Australia number 42 and UAE number 68. “But then again, I think Tunisia will be ranked third in this group (if either Australia or UAE join the group and not Peru),” Mafoso said.
Mafoso said most Tunisian players were playing within the African continent; some in Tunisia, others in Egypt and few in Europe. “As a result, Tunisia’s chances of going beyond the group stages in the tournament are slim, taking into consideration the quality of the players they are going to play against in their group.
“For instance, looking at the quality of the France team, you will then realise that Tunisia’s chances are very slim.” Mafoso, however, said this was while in most cases the defending champions did not perform according to the expectations. “But I don’t see France being eliminated in the group stages,” he said. Mafoso added that this was also since Denmark would not be easy opponents to play against.
“Denmark are also not easy opponents to play against. Testimony to what I am saying is that they always managed to go beyond group stages of the World Cup.” Coming to Group F, Mafoso gave Morocco equal chances of making it to the Last 16 and of not making it beyond the group stages.
Morocco ranks number 24 in the world while their opponents Belgium, Croatia and Canada rank number two, 16 and 38, respectively. “Morocco are the third ranked team in their group and they have few players plying their trade in some of the big leagues in Europa and, as a result, you can give them equal chances of proceeding to the next stage of the tournament.” But Mafoso said that would depend on how Morocco will play against Belgium and Croatia.
He also said given the fact that Croatian players grew together in the team from the 2018 World Cup, it might not be easy for Morocco to advance to the next stage of the tournament in Qatar. “But if they get better results against Belgium and Croatia, they may proceed, even though I don’t think they would.” Mafoso said Group G would be the toughest group for Cameroon, if FIFA rankings were anything to go by.
Cameroon ranks number 37, while their opponents Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia, rank number 1, 14 and 25 respectively. “Cameroon is the last ranked team in this group after Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia, and of course this is one of the tough groups,” Mafoso said. But again Mafoso said Cameroon has quality players who play in some of the big leagues in Europa.
“However, in terms of quality, Cameroon has such players who ply trade in the big leagues in Europa. “Again, we are talking about the Cameroonian team who have competed in the World Cup seven times before, even though their last appearance was with the 2014 World Cup.” Mafoso also said Cameroon proved that they were one of the football power houses in Africa when they beat Algeria to book a place in the World Cup.
“Cameroon beat Algeria to be where they are and, as a result, you cannot underestimate them.” Like Cameroon, Mafoso said Ghana’s chances of proceeding to the last 16 are very slim. Ghana ranks number 60 in the world while their opponents in Group H, Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea rank number 8, 13 and 29, respectively. “Just like Cameroon, Ghana are also the last team in their group in terms of rankings,” Mafoso said.
Mafoso further said: “The Ghanaian team is, however, improving. We have recently watched them playing against South Africa (Bafana Bafana) and they were not a promising team but it is still a surprise to a lot of people that Ghana qualified for the World Cup at the expense of Nigeria (as they held the latter to a 1-1 draw away from home).
“But I don’t think they have a chance to proceed to the last 16 in a group that comprises Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea.” Former Bafana Bafana coach, Lioli and current coach of Jwaneng Galaxy in Botswana, Morena Ramoreboli, said it would be easy for the African teams in Qatar.
“When you look at the draw you will realise that the going is not going to be easy for the African teams,” said Ramoreboli. “This will be the case since the level of African football keeps declining.”
Ramoreboli, therefore, said the African teams would need to work hard for them to proceed beyond the group stages of the World Cup.
“I still believe that for our African teams to proceed to the next stage of the competition they will need to work hard. They should understand how their opponents play because you cannot play against Uruguay the same way you play against Spain, and play Germany the same way you play against Brazil.”
Ramoreboli said these countries play differently. He, therefore, said the five African teams to compete in the World Cup should be able to do match analysis and to profile their opponents.
“In this case, match analysis and profiles of their opponents are some of the things which could help them a lot.” Former Lifefo captain and current coach, Kenny Mohoanyane, said the draw holds no surprises. “For me, the World Cup holds no surprises because we knew from the beginning that the qualifying teams will be from Asia, America and Europe, among other continents.
“So this means we knew that we were supposed to play against them, like it or not,” said Mohoanyane. He added: “We qualified because we wanted to be in that showpiece and we wanted to play the best as that is the tournament of the best, and for us to be there it says we are the best.” Mohoanyane said how the African teams would fare in the tournament would be another thing.
“Our problem here in Africa is preparation and leadership. I think if everybody could do their job things would be better. “I mean the management doing its part and bonuses or any money promised to the players are given to them on time, it makes players to focus only on their job.”
Mohoanyane said apart that, the African continent had good players who could match any team in the world. “Pound for pound, our African players can match any team in the world. Let’s make example with the Senegal team, all of their players are playing in Europe.
“Some of them are teammates with Neymar (de Silva Santos Junior who plays for Paris Saint Germain) and Lionel Messi, others are teammates with Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe, amongst others.” Mohoanyane reiterated: “They play with them week in and week out in Europe where the management is good and they perform well.”
Mohoanyane therefore believes African teams could even reach the quarterfinals in the World Cup. “I don’t think it will be a problem for our African teams to go beyond the group stages, at least with three teams out of five, likely Morocco, Senegal and Cameroon.
“As for Ghana and Tunisia, I still have some doubts.” But then again, Mohoanyane said you could not write Ghana off. He said they were a kind of team which if they prepare well could surprise a lot of people. “Ghana proved when they beat Nigeria that they are a big footballing nation. So I trust our African countries in there to some extend,” Mohoanyane said.
African teams are yet to win the World Cup. The furthest any African team has gone at the World Cup is the quarterfinals. The first African team to reach that stage is Cameroon in 1990, before Senegal and Ghana emulated the feat in 2002 and 2010 respectively.