Africa’s time at the World Cup crowned by the indiscipline that has made mediocre a favourite option
Africa went to Russia. Africa saw in Russia. After a series of mediocre performances, Africa never conquered.
Aside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah was the player to look out for in Russia. His stellar season with English Premier League club Liverpool has sent a message across the world.
Since the Black Stars of Ghana made waves at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa with the continent’s first host of the biggest football competition on the globe, Africa has had a new spotlight.
Ghana’s quarterfinal step in South Africa, the furthest an African side had gone in the World Cup, could not be matched when Brazil hosted the competition in 2014.
Algeria and Nigeria were the only nations among the five that represented in 2014 to have made it from their respective groups. For the two African sides, the round of 16 was where they bid farewell.
Coach Kwesi Appiah and his men who had given the African football world so much hope in the previous edition were a shame to say the least. Writing scripts for Hollywood was their only mission in Brazil having threatened not to play games until money was flown from Ghana to South America. The story which screams fiction actually did happen.
This would go on to disrupt the love Ghanaians have for the game subsequently leading to them missing the Russia edition of the World Cup.
Even so, Africa had so much hope going to battle in the cold weather of Russia.
Mohamed Salah made the football season so great with his immense talent it was difficult to rule out Egypt ahead of the game. His Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane and his Senegal side were full of zeal and pace. Nigeria had sorted out the football problems to make it to Russia with a young and talented side. And then there was Morocco and Tunisia.
Egypt, who played Africa’s first game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament dented all hopes for the continent. Without Mohamed Salah, Egypt were a shadow of the side that pushed away Ghana in their group to claim a spot as one of Africa’s representatives.
The team lost by a single goal to nil to Uruguay which complicated their entire chances of progression with host nation Russia to play.
Morocco did take on Iran in their first game. By the end of 90 minutes, a picture of how African football fans were going to be put through an emotional rollercoaster was drawn. It wasn’t going to be easy. And it wasn’t.
Nigeria had created so much buzz ahead of the World Cup with their kit. Having already been in the spotlight, the stakes and expectations were high as ever.
The West African team were as poor in their first game as poor could get allowing Croatia to take a leap step to an impressive campaign so far with a 2-0 win.
Tunisia slacked but Senegal gave hope to Africa.
Hope from their win against Poland the first time they took to the field in Russia.
Complemented by their fans being polite enough to clean the stadium, the headlines looked good for the first time for an African side. ‘Hope’ was all over the place; in the hearts of people and in headlines.
But hope could not go as far as discipline could.
Senegal went into their final group game against Columbia having crushed the hope they gave into nervy bits. By the time Senegal’s last group game started, no African team had a place in the tournament as they had all been eliminated.
Nigeria’s was a painful one. They could win for a place in the round of 16 against Argentina but were done by a late goal from Rojo.
Senegal had their fate in their own hands in the Columbia game. A win or draw against Columbia and the round of 16 was a reality, no longer a dream.
In time of need, Senegal broke. The hopes Africa had come to an abrupt end. No team. No place in the round of 16. Nothing for Africa.
Having claimed the same points with Japan, scored the same goals as Japan and conceded the same goals as Japan, the battle to progress came down to yellow cards.
Japan had 4 yellow cards, Senegal had 6. In the end, it was a farewell for Senegal meaning a touch of indiscipline had come to play in an unfamiliar manner.
Maybe, Africa’s slump at the 2018 FIFA World Cup was partially due to talent issues. Maybe. Just maybe.
However, some actions and inactions emphatically prove that when it comes down to football, talent is not the only option. Working hard and not relying on mediocrity as a birthright is key.
Nigeria had matters in their own hands but blew it. In the eye of a goal to boost their chances of qualifying, a player chose not to hit the target but rather rely on a penalty shout to win some accolades.
The same team that was better off staying in their dressing room in their game against Croatia because to put it as it is, Nigeria did not show up.
Morocco decided to put on their scoring boots when it wasn’t needed. Against Spain when the north African nation had already been eliminated, they scored twice. Two goals that could have proved useful in the zone of miss chances galore against Iran and Portugal.
For Egypt, no Mo Salah, no football.
Tunisia goes into their last game against Panama without a chance in hell. They are out and that summarizes Africa’s representation.
Senegal will rue their missed chances against Japan, the team that eventually beat them to the spot they so needed. Looking at how they had featured in their first game, lapses in concentration were more their enemy that talent of the field.
In their first half of the final group game against Croatia, Senegal could have taken the chances they so needed to give them a breathing space.
The team knew a goal for Columbia could change everything and it did change. It did change Senegal’s prospects of qualifying to the next stage. And in the end, it did change Africa’s look at this World Cup.
Indiscipline costs. And it has in this tournament with regards to Africa.
But there’s one last hope which is certain. Hope that when a team steps onto the field for the rest of this World Cup season, no hearts will be broken on behalf of Africa. That is a sure certainty.