SOCHI, Russian Federation, Jun 20 – Senegal are proving to be Africa’s saving grace at the World Cup. Their win over Poland on Tuesday was a rare bright moment among six defeats out of six for the continent’s other representatives in Russia.
After Nigeria and Algeria both reached the knockout phase four years ago, following Ghana’s run to the quarter-finals in 2010, it is looking like 2018 will be a step backwards for Africa on the biggest stage. Two of their teams are already eliminated.
– Salah, Egypt out –
Following all the excitement surrounding their first appearance at the finals since 1990, the Pharaohs have been knocked out already after just a week of competition.
Hector Cuper’s side have been hampered by Mohamed Salah coming into the tournament with a shoulder injury.
He played no part in the 1-0 defeat against Uruguay in Yekaterinburg.
On Tuesday, Salah was back but unable to prevent Egypt from losing 3-1 to Russia in Saint Petersburg, his late penalty proving a mere consolation.
“It is very difficult to know what would have happened (had he not been injured) but we know the quality he has,” said Cuper.
Egypt have still never won a match at the World Cup in six attempts. Only Honduras (nine) have played more games at the finals without a single victory.
– Morocco eliminated –
Herve Renard’s Morocco did not concede a single goal in their final qualifying group. But scoring goals has been their big problem in Russia.
Despite two encouraging displays against Iran and Portugal, the Atlas Lions have no goals, no points and are guaranteed to make a group-stage exit.
It took a late own-goal from Aziz Bouhaddouz to condemn them to a 1-0 defeat against Iran in their opener.
On Wednesday, Cristiano Ronaldo’s early header gave Portugal a 1-0 victory in Moscow and Morocco’s second-half onslaught was in vain.
But despite being the first nation to be knocked out, the hope will be that this can be a learning curve for their talented younger players.
“We qualified for a World Cup after 20 years of absence and we showed that we can play football,” said Renard.
– ‘Naive’ Nigeria –
Gernot Rohr’s Super Eagles were poor as they started their campaign with a 2-0 defeat against Croatia in Kaliningrad in a difficult group.
Oghenekaro Etebo’s own-goal and a Luka Modric penalty did for a Nigerian team almost unrecognisable from that beaten by France in the last 16 four years ago.
Epitomising this youthful side was Francis Uzoho, who at 19 years and seven months became the second-youngest goalkeeper to play in a World Cup.
“Sometimes we were a little bit naive on set pieces but we will work on it,” said Rohr, whose team face Iceland next, then Argentina.
– Tough on Tunisia –
Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul had confidently asserted before the World Cup that his side would qualify from a group also containing Belgium and England and they almost held Gareth Southgate’s side to a draw in Volgograd in their opening game.
They recovered from conceding an early goal and losing goalkeeper Mouez Hassen to injury, equalising courtesy of a Ferjani Sassi penalty.
However, Harry Kane’s late strike saw the north African side lose 2-1, and they have now gone 12 World Cup games without winning since beating Mexico in 1978.
Only Bulgaria (17 games) have endured a longer drought, and it is hard to see them ending their run when they play Belgium next, with Hassen out of the rest of their campaign.
– Senegal dream of 2002 repeat –
Having seen their fellow Africans toil, Senegal did their bit by battling to a 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Group H.
Sadio Mane was seen as the man dangerman, but it was the pace of Mbaye Niang, and a mistake by Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, that clinched it for Senegal after Thiago Cionek’s own goal put them ahead.
The Lions of Teranga are now dreaming of a repeat of their run to the quarter-finals in 2002.
“Of course we represent our country but I can also guarantee that the whole of Africa is supporting us,” said impressive Senegal coach Aliou Cisse.