As the Russia World Cup comes to an end, African football fans have once again been left disappointed.
All of the continent’s five representatives, Egypt – Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria – crashed out early on and continued Africa’s unenviable record of never seeing a team reach a World Cup semi-final.
In fact, Africa suffered its worst World Cup display in almost four decades, with no side making it to the knockout stage for the first time since 1982.
Although Egypt’s Pharaohs had last appeared in a World Cup in 1990 there were high hopes for the team, given that they have won the Africa Cup of Nations multiple times.
However a number of defensive errors and their star striker, Mo Saleh, being hobbled by injury saw them suffer defeat at the hands of what were considered the tournament’s weakest teams.
Morocco, making their fifth appearance in a World Cup – the last time was in 1998 – played more impressively but were let down by a lack of reliable strikers.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles not only featured the youngest squad of the tournament also had a tough group to contend with. However, they performed creditably in this their sixth World Cup appearance and managed to keep former champions Argentina on their toes before being defeated 2-1.
The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia missed their star man, Youssef Msakni, due to injury and struggled through all the group stage games, suffering a 5-2 defeat by Belgium.
It was left to Senegal to restore Africa’s hopes after FIFA gave them the highest pre- tournament placing of all African teams in its world rankings – no 23. The team won their first game against Poland and drew with Japan in the next. After a 1-0 loss to Colombia, the Lions finished with the same points as Japan but were knocked out of their second World Cup for having received the most yellow cards under Fifa’s new Fair Play points.
Senegal came close to fulfilling the dream of Africans to finally advance to World Cup semi-finals when they reached the quarter final stage in their last World Cup appearance in 2002, followed by Ghana’s Black Stars in 2010. Cameroon was the first African team to do so in 1990, and their dazzling display, which involved beating the reigning champions Argentina in their opening game, prompted Fifa to award Africa an additional place in the next World Cup.
Many believe that part of the reason for Africa’s disappointing display in Russia is because many of its star players chose to play for the European teams taking part. The French team has 12 African origin players in its squad, Belgium had eight and England two – Delle Alli (Nigerian father) and Danny Welbeck (Ghanaian parents).
Now that France is to contest the final against Croatia on Sunday, many are referring to it as the World Cup’s last “African” team. The standout French player in Russia is 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, who is of Cameroonian and Algerian descent. His teammates are Paul Pogba (country of origin, Guinea), Steve Mandanda (Democratic Republic of Congo), Blaise Matuidi (Angola/Congo), Ngolo Kante (Mali), Ousmane Dembele, (Senegal/Mali), Nabil Fekir (Algeria), Samuel Umtiti (Cameroon), Adil Rami (Morocco), Benjamin Mendy (Senegal), Djibril Sidibe, (Senegal), Presnel Kimpembe (Democratic Republic of Congo).
That’s why most Africans will be rooting for France at the final.