Analysis: African World Cup Qualifiers (Part 2 of 2)

Despite the fact that Africa is a huge continent, the national teams have yet to shine on a world stage. No African nation has ever reached the World Cup semifinals, with Ghana coming the closest in 2010 with a quarter-final penalty shootout loss. However, Africa has enough successful soccer teams to have ten groups of four in round two of three, with stars coming from generally unknown nations, like Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who comes from Gabon. Check out part one here, and for this article I will look at the remaining five groups that I did not cover in part one.

Group F: Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Angola

Speaking of Gabon, here they are! Gabon actually have a solid squad, with Galatasaray midfielder Mario Lemina and previously-mentioned Arsenal forward Aubameyang, who has recently returned to play for Gabon. Aubameyang has repeatedly criticized the Gabonese Football Federation but never actually retired from the international team, despite speculation that he would. This is all after the spring of 2019, when Gabon’s national team was dissolved and reformed. There might be too many moving pieces here to prevent Gabon to form a solid team for the future, and it would not be surprising to start seeing more players begin to snub Gabon for the French national team.

Egypt will be desperate to qualify for the World Cup, as they are coming off two disappointing major international tournaments. The team was optimistic after being 2017 AFCON runner ups, and they qualified for their first World Cup since 1990 in 2018. They lost every group stage game in a fairly weak group of Uruguay, Russia and Saudi Arabia. They then played the 2019 AFCON tournament in Egypt, although it was originally supposed to be in Cameroon but was moved due to infrastructure issues. Egypt won all of its group stage games, and advanced to the Round-of-16, where the Pharaohs stunningly lost to South Africa in the capital, Cairo. However Egypt have some great players like Mohamed Salah, Ramadan Sobhi and Trezeguet, and they should have a great chance of winning this group.

Angola have, rather surprisingly, qualified for a World Cup recently. In 2006 Angola qualified in the World Cup and actually did rather well, losing narrowly to Portugal before draws with Mexico and Iran. Not bad, considering the country’s main sport is basketball. It’s a big ask for Angola to advance to round three of qualifiers in such a tricky group, but Angola’s close ties with Portugal allow the Angolans to select many Portuguese players, who also get first tier European experience. Don’t rule Angola out.

It’s incredible that Libya has even gotten this far, considering that the country has been demolished by an ongoing civil war. It’s fair to say soccer has not been a main priority for Libya, but a little success could go a long way for a country that has been dealing with hardships for years. The Libyan Premier League has been stopped many times due to various catastrophes, but this will just make the team more determined. Leading the way will be midfielder Al Musrati, who is 24 and has played for several Portugese top-flight teams and is now at Rio Ave FC. It will be interesting to see how Libya deals with long-time rivals Egypt, as matches between the two typically end in violence. It might actually be a good thing that fans in attendance are unlikely, at least for the first matchup.

Group G: Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia

As previously mentioned, Ghana have come closer to the World Cup semi-finals than any other African nation.

The year is 2010. Ghana has a young, talented squad including Kwadwo Asamoah, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Andre Ayew, and Asamoah Gyan. Ghana struggle through a difficult group, beating Serbia, tying Australia and losing 1-0 to Germany and face USA in the Round-of-16, which Ghana won 2-1 in added time. They face Uruguay in the Quarter-finals. Uruguay have a talented squad, especially in attack. Uruguay has forwards Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan as well as a young, 23-year old Ajax forward named Luis Suarez.

Both teams have early opportunities to score, mainly off corner kicks, but in the last minute in the first half, Ghanian midfielder Sulley Muntari slotted a long-range goal home past Lazio goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. However, Uruguay legend Diego Forlan scores an incredible free-kick to tie the game at 1-1 in the 55′ minute. The match goes to added time. Late in added time, Ghana earn a free kick and cross the ball into the middle of the box. Fernando Muslera lunged for the ball and missed, the ball ricocheted around and Dominic Adiyiah headed the ball into an open net, but Luis Suarez blocked the shot on the goal-line with his hands, earning Ghana a penalty and getting Suarez sent off. Asamoah Gyan stepped up to win the game for Ghana, and with the last kick of added time Gyan hit the crossbar. Ghana lost in the ensuing penalty shoot-out.

Gyan’s career never quite recovered. He was successful, sure, but he never lived up to his potential, as he was just 23 and playing for French club Stade Rennais at the time. After he left Rennais, he went on to play in England, UAE, China, Turkey and most recently India but Gyan is now a free agent.

Ghana didn’t exactly recover either, by their standards. In 2010-17 AFCON tournaments, Ghana finished in the top four every time but were eliminated in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup, failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and lost in the Round-of-16 in the 2019 AFCON tournament. This is Ghana’s chance to get back on track.

The 2010 World Cup was actually hosted in South Africa, and the Bafana Bafana’s quality of play has improved significantly since then. A big reason for this is 26-year old Brighton striker Percy Tau, who has scored nine goals in 21 games for South Africa. Two of those goals came in a final-day AFCON qualifying win, with South Africa winning 2-1 against Libya thanks to a Tau brace. If Tau hadn’t scored, Libya would have won and eliminated South Africa, preventing them from playing in the 2019 AFCON tournament which South Africa did well in, beating hosts Egypt and advancing to the Quarter-finals.

Zimbabwe, believe it or not, have a Premier League player. Aston Villa’s 26-year old midfielder Marvelous Nakamba has been huge for Villa, who are fighting relegation, as Nakamba has played 27 games after being bought by Belgian team Club Brugge. However, despite Nakamba’s success at club level he has been capped just 12 times from Zimbabwe. That will have to change if Zimbabwe want any chance of advancing to round three of qualifiers.

Ethiopia is perhaps most well-known for its food, but historically have a very good team. The Walias won the AFCON tournament in 1962, finished second in the first ever AFCON tournament in 1957, third in 1959 and fourth in 1963 and 1968. Whilst the team has not been successful recently, Ethiopia are starting to get players in more well-developed leagues like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Things are starting to look up for Ethiopia, but don’t expect the glory days to return anytime soon.

Group H: Senegal, Congo, Namibia, Togo

Senegal were 2019 AFCON runner ups and could have advanced farther in the 2018 World Cup but were eliminated due to the tournament’s first ever fair play rule, where teams that are level on goals and points advance based on who has fewer yellow cards. However, despite losing the AFCON final to Algeria, Senegal are probably the best team in Africa with a wealth of talents like Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye and Sadio Mane.

Congo (not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo) have a wealth of young talents from all around the world, in Portugal, France, and Germany and could potentially surprise some people. However it’s unrealistic to assume that Congo can contend with Senegal immediately, especially since Congo has had issues recently.

Namibia should, in theory, have a better soccer team since it was once a German territory. Whilst some parts of the coastal African country still represent Germany, the soccer team does not represent the technical skill of the Germans. Namibia don’t have a single World Cup appearance and just three AFCON appearances. They have never won an AFCON game. It’s unlikely that Namibia will be able to win this group.

Togo’s soccer might be most famous for former Arsenal and Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor, but keep an eye out for this team. Getafe have had a superb season, only dropping out of a Europa League spot on the final day. Togo’s defender Djené was a huge part in Getafe’s season, playing 34 games in La Liga alone. Togo also have Lille and Lyon youth players on the squad, and the future looks bright for Togo.

Group I: Morocco, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan

Morocco have always been a quiet but superb team, and they have restocked well. The squad has lost some veterans like Medhi Benatia but has replaced him with Achiraf Hakimi, and Hakim Ziyech has now become a world-wide star, joining Chelsea. Morocco are almost guaranteed to qualify for the World Cup.

Guinea’s most famous current player, Naby Keïta, has definitely enjoyed finer days. Keïta starred at German club Red Bull Leipzig, earning a transfer to Liverpool in 2018. However Keïta has contributed to just ten goals in two seasons for Liverpool, being outshone by other midfielders on the Liverpool squad. Keïta is expected to leave in the summer, which could be best for Keïta, club and country.

Guinea-Bissau’s team has never enjoyed much success, but they have qualified for the two most recent AFCON tournaments. Unfortunately for Guinea-Bissau, they have the rough luck that many other African countries have, as players often choose to represent other countries. Guinea-Bissau have had many players leave, like Danielo Pereira, who chose Portugal or Barcelona star Ansu Fati, who was born in Guinea-Bissau but could’ve represented Spain or Portugal, choosing Spain.

Sudan have actually won an AFCON tournament, in 1970. Since then the team has qualified four times for AFCON, most recently in 2012 but Sudan have recently gone through many genocides, causing chaos throughout the country. So again, soccer isn’t always priority number one. Sudan have also lost many players like star Qatar striker Almoez Ali, born in Sudan but representing Qatar.

Group J: DR Congo, Benin, Madagascar, Tanzania

Madagascar. Home of penguins from New York, 26 million people and national team midfielder Andriamirado Andrianarimanana. Madagascar’s players have some insanely long names, but the team exceeded all expectations in the 2019 AFCON tournament. It was the team’s first ever AFCON tournament but they made it to the Quarter-finals before a loss to Tunisia. So Madagascar could become the next Iceland. A small island nation does well in a continental tournament before qualifying for a World Cup.

Benin’s team name is the Squirrels. The reason for this name? Benin are a small nation aiming to climb high. Granted, it’s a bad name that Benin is trying to change, but it signifies what Benin wants to do as a nation. Benin have had some good strikers in the past as well, with Middlesbrough striker Rudy Gestede and former Manchester United and current Huddersfield Town forward Steve Mounié.

Tanzania also surprisingly have a Premier League player as well. And just like Zimbabwe’s Marvelous Nakamba, Tanzania’s player is on Aston Villa. Mbwana Samatta, signed from Genk, has practically godlike-status in Tanzania. He’s the first Tanzanian player ever in the Premier League, first Tanzanian ever to score a Premier League, and the first player from an African nation to score on his debut. No matter what the results are, Tanzania will enjoy watching Samatta play.

DR Congo have won several AFCON tournaments and have qualified for one World Cup, which is very good for a nation that has had many political issues. The roster is on the older side, so if DR Congo are going to qualify for a World Cup it has to be now or in 20 years.

So many teams have great chances to qualify for the World Cup. Which team are you routing for, and who is your favorite player?

Image courtesy of Кирилл Венедиктов / CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL

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