epa06847470 Sadio Mane of Senegal (R) and Santiago Arias of Colombia in action during the FIFA World Cup 18 group H preliminary round soccer match between Senegal and Colombia in Samara, Russia, 28 June 2018.
Sunday Jul 08, 2018. 16:00
Following Africa’s disastrous showing at the World Cup, here is our pick of the continent’s five lows from Russia 2018.
Egypt – Mohamed Salah not given a chance to shine
Ahead of the 2018 finals, arguably the form player of world football was Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah. Then he got caught up in a challenge with Sergio Ramos in the final of the UEFA Champions League and any hope of seeing his best in Russia went out the window. The Liverpool man missed the first match entirely, and then was way short of match fitness for the games against Russia and Saudi Arabia. He managed a goal in each of those, but only hinted at the wonderful form we all know he is capable of.
Tunisia – Unable to find a balance
Against England, Tunisia were too passive and defensive and ultimately paid the price when Harry Kane netted a late winner. Against Belgium, the North Africans went too far the other way, with an attacking approach allowing the European side’s gifted forwards far too much time and space, and the result was a 5-2 defeat. Only against Panama did the Carthage Eagles finally find a balance between attack and defence – the result was their first win at the World Cup in 40 years.
Senegal – Undone by a technicality
Senegal were Africa’s last hope at the 2018 World Cup, and their ultimate exit was hardest to swallow. When a team finishes outside of the top two on points, there can be no complaint. When the decisive factor is goal difference, goals scored or even head-to-head results, it’s tougher to live with, yet still a fair method of tie-breaking. But when the factor which decides whether you advance to the last 16 or go home is based on how many yellow cards you picked up... that’s a savage low blow.
Nigeria – Tactical uncertainty costs the Super Eagles
Say what you will about Nigeria’s loss to Argentina, the real killer for their World Cup hopes arrived in the first game, a 2-0 loss to Croatia. And even worse, it was self-inflicted: Gernot Rohr had spent most of the build-up refining a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation, but against ‘The Blazers’ he went with a back four, fielded John Obi Mikel as an ineffectual number 10 and waited for over an hour before introducing the pace and directness of Ahmed Musa. How different would their campaign have turned out had the manager stuck to his guns?
Morocco – A missed opportunity
Much like Nigeria, Morocco’s opening game was the real killer for their hopes of advancing beyond the group stage. The Atlas Lions came out roaring against Iran and it looked like it was only a matter of time until they found the net and secured three points on their World Cup return. Instead they lost the game 1-0 right at the death with a horror own goal from Aziz Bouhaddouz. They went on to dominate Portugal (but lost 1-0 again) and then very nearly put Spain out by holding the 2010 champions to a 2-2 draw. Morocco may have been one of the first teams mathematically eliminated, but they deserved so much more.