by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – AFRICA is the conveyor belt of talent that has graced the globe’s biggest football leagues.
It is somewhat a mystery that no country from the continent has ever won the World Cup.
Let alone reach the semifinals of the Federation of International Football Associations’ (FIFA’s) prime tournament, first held in 1930.
The Brazilian Pele, among the most decorated players in the tournament’s history, famously predicted that an African nation would win the World Cup by the year 2000.
Now, 22 years after the elapsed timeframe, the globe will converge in Qatar for the first World Cup on Arab soil, with the question raging if an African team will at last lift the famous 6,1-kilogramme trophy.
Except for Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana reaching the quarterfinals, in 1990, 2002 and 2010, Africa’s teams have been the whipping boys at this tournament.
These three countries are back for the Qatar edition of the tournament, joined by Morocco and Tunisia, being the five African representatives at the 32-team tournament.
Reigning continental champions, Senegal, also the highest ranked in the continent and 18th in the world, will carry most of the continent’s hopes.
The West Africans are in a tricky Group A alongside the hosts, Ecuador and perennial favourites but underachievers, Netherlands.
Coach Aliou Cisse’s golden generation of Teranga Lions are buoyed by their going to the Middle East as the reigning African kings.
Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is also the reigning Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper. Sadio Mane is not only one of the fastest forwards in the planet but is one of the most fearsome front-men in the sport.
Kalidou Koulibaly is generally acknowledged to be one of the most formidable defenders.
Cisse was a member of the 2002 team that shocked the football world by beating then-champions France before advancing to the last eight.
Tunisia are in Group D alongside holders France, Australia and Denmark.
They can only be underrated at their opponents’ peril.
While previous campaigns have been disappointing, the Carthage Eagles the first African team to win a World Cup match, in 1978 when they beat fancied Mexico 3-1.
Coach Jalel Kadri’s trusted lieutenants include extraordinary box-to-box midfielder, Ellyes Skhiri, and defender Dylan Bronn.
Youssef Msakni won’t need time to adapt to the conditions in Qatar, as he already stars for local side Al Duhail.
Fellow North Africans, Morocco, must navigate their way out of Group F where favourites Belgium, Canada and 2018 runners-up, Croatia, lurk.
Coach Walid Regragui’s Atlas Lions have in their side Yassine Bounou, statistically the best goalkeeper in the Spanish topflight where he represents Sevilla.
Romain Saiss, the ball-playing centre-half, remains key figure for the North Africans while right-wingback, Achraf Hakimi, has international pedigree.
In 1986, Morocco were the first African team to reach round of 16.
It is 32 years since Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions won the hearts of the football world en-route to reaching the quarterfinals at Italia 90.
Since then, they have flattered to deceive.
Now coached by former defender, Rigobert Song, they are back on the global stage after missing out on Russia 2018.
Their strength in Qatar lies in a fearsome frontline likely to be led by captain Vincent Aboubakar, Karl Toko Ekambi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
However, in this Group G is the uneasy prospect of facing Brazil, a side that has won ALL matches against African opponents at the World Cup.
African sides have simply been the punching bags for the Brazil’s Seleção.
The South Americans are also the highest-ranked team in the world and the most successful in the famous tournament.
If there is a Group match that ought to produce fireworks in Qatar, it has to be Ghana against Uruguay in Group H, at the Al Janoub Stadium in December 2.
It is 12 years since Uruguay blatantly denied Ghana procession to the semifinals.
That was at South Africa 2010 when with seconds remaining, serial troublemaker Luis Suarez hand-balled on the goal-line.
Asamoah Gyan missed the stoppage time penalty kick, the match would go into extra time and penalties and Ghana lost.
That chilly night in Johannesburg was the last time an African team went as far as the quarterfinals.
Suarez’s antics evoked the ugly of the beautiful game but it affirmed Africa as the nearly-man of global football.
Captain Andrew Ayew was on the bench and would be eager for revenge for coach Otto Addo’s Black Stars.
The West Africans and Uruguay’s Charrúasare in the same group with Korea Republic and Portugal in Qatar.
The tournament runs from December 20 to January 18, 2022.
– CAJ News