The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14th, and five teams from the Confederation of African Football have qualified. This raises a huge question: Will this be the year an African football team wins the World Cup?
Only three African teams have ever made it to quarter-finals: Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002, and Ghana in 2010. This may be the year that a team from Africa makes it farther than ever before, perhaps even taking the whole tournament.
Here are the five teams to look out for in the World Cup:
This may only be their second World Cup, but the Teranga Lions from Senegal already have an impressive reputation. Their 2002 debut team made it all the way to the quarter-finals. The team’s captain for that incredible run, Aliou Cisse, is coaching this year’s team too. He holds his well-esteemed players in high regard.
“This is a great generation,” Cisse said of his team. “What we’re changing is the mindset. It’s not just about playing a pass or some technical skill, it’s about raising the whole level of African football. That’s our objective.”
After a 20 year absence, Morocco will be at the World Cup for their third time. The Atlas Lions features a unique mix of players; 17 out of their 23 teammates were born in nations other than Morocco, but have chosen to play for the nation of their parents and grandparents. The team’s coach, Hervé Renard, understands why his players have chosen to represent Morocco, as someone who was born in France.
“…the most important thing is team spirit,” says Renard. “To achieve something in football, if you don’t have team spirit, it doesn’t matter where you are coming from.”
They have a tough competition ahead of them, as they will be facing off against Portugal, currently ranked 4th among all the teams, and Spain, currently ranked 8th.
Nigeria has played in the world cup more than any other African team this year, with this being their sixth tournament. Though the Super Eagles are the only undefeated team in Group B, they’ll be facing a long-time rival. Nigeria and Argentina have faced each other in four previous World Cups, with Argentina taking the victory in each one.
Though the team has a handful of impressive players, coach Gernot Rohr argues that the team’s strength lies in being a collective. “It is not the individual quality, even if that quality is huge, that will make the difference, but the best team spirit.”
The Eagles of Carthage, qualifying for their fifth World Cup, will face quite the challenge in Group G. The team will face off against England and Belgium, but the team is confident that they will show “the true face of Tunisia.”
In the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Tunisia made history as the first African nation to win a World Cup match. The nation has not seen another World Cup victory since then, but could change that this year.
This will be the first World Cup for Egypt since 1990, and their third in history. The Pharohs secured their place before their final match, thanks to Mohamed Salah bringing them victory against the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mohamed Salah, 2017’s African Footballer of the Year, is expected to play in the World Cup, despite receiving a shoulder injury in the Champions League final. He scored 44 goals in a record-breaking first season, making him a serious asset to the team. His athletic ability has certainly won him a large fan base – so much so that he received over a million votes in Egypt’s presidential election, despite not being a candidate.
Egypt’s goalkeeper, Essam El-Hadary will be leaving a legacy of his own, as the oldest player to compete in the World Cup.