Arab sides up for Russian revolution
Hard work starts now for World Cup history-makers but initial signs are good
A tough qualification campaign should have toughened the side up ahead of the World Cup — a first since 2006. Finishing between Japan and Australia was a brilliant achievement for the Green Falcons and coach Bert van Marwijk.
There was some luck involved. Six points from the first two games came from three penalties — two of them soft — but good teams build upon such fortuitous foundations. Taking 12 points from Thailand and Iraq, the two weakest teams in the group, was the key. Ultimately, Saudi Arabia won the games they had to.
The departure of Van Marwijk just days after clinching qualification was unfortunate as the Dutchman was a coach with considerable World Cup experience. Replacing him with Edgardo Bauza, who struggled recently with Argentina, is a gamble. He may bring better football but does he have the ability to grind out a result when the pressure is on?
There is real talent in the team with the likes of Nawaf Al-Abed, one of the best playmakers in Asia.
Have little international experience with their players based at home — moves to try and remedy may be too late for Russia.
When Mohamed Salah lined up a 95th minute penalty against Congo on Oct. 8, he had the weight of almost 100 million Egyptians on his shoulders. It was no problem for the Liverpool star as he slotted home to send the Pharaohs to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
There have been some playoff heartbreaks in the past and it was perhaps understandable that Hector Cuper was hired as coach in 2015. The Argentine focused on making the team hard to beat and even when the team did taste defeat, against Uganda, they showed real resilience to bounce back with two crucial victories.
Cuper’s tactics have been criticized but making the final of the African Cup of Nations earlier this year and a place in Russia tell you what you really need to know.
Solid at the back and lightning on the counter-attack, if Egypt can keep their stars fit then it won’t just be their marvellous fans lighting up the Russian summer.
Egypt are organized, settled and hard to beat. In the group stage that can be enough, from there on in who knows, but they shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Salah is dangerous going forward but he needs a little more support.
They have been dancing on the streets of Rabat, Marrakesh and Casablanca this weekend, a party that has been 20 years in the making.
The King of Morocco was soon calling coach Herve Renard. The Frenchman did not come cheap but has been worth every dirham.
This is a man with tournament knowhow in Africa who has won the African Cup of Nations with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.
Under the Frenchman, Morocco have not only improved but grown in confidence, with tall striker Khalid Boutaib emerging as a real handful for opposing defenders and a great outlet for a defense under pressure.
Being placed in the same group as the Ivory Coast was always going to present a challenge. But they got to the last game with their destiny still in their own hands.
Needing only a draw against the Ivorians in Abidjan to go through, Morocco could have been forgiven for parking the bus but instead ended up winning 2-0. A great result and display of character which they’ll need to repeat next summer.
This is a squad packed full of players with international experience and a highly-rated coach who has had plenty of success in tournaments.
LONDON: For the first time ever, four Arab teams have made it to the World Cup. Here Arab News runs the rule over the successful quartet.
Renard has called for more self-belief — if that can be instilled then Morocco could surprise a few people next summer.
A first World Cup appearance since 2006 came off the back of three wins in the first three games that put the North Africans in a great position.
But the most impressive display came in their fourth match. The Carthage Eagles went to the home of their biggest rivals, the Democratic Republic of Congo. There were 80,000 fans waiting in Kinshasa who knew that the winners of this game were likely heading to Russia.
The hosts took a 2-0 lead. Tunisia were up against it but came back to draw 2-2 to take a point and a huge step toward the World Cup.
On paper they are probably the weakest of the four Arab representatives. Tunisia may not be the most exciting team to watch, but they are hard-working and very well organized defensively, as four goals conceded in six games suggests.
But they are resilient and have a great team spirit. Now the hard work really starts.
Lack worldclass talent in attack but the team does like to spread goals around. Their eleven goals were scored by eight players.
A lack of creativity and international experience is a concern.
Joy for Tunisia after they made the World Cup with a 0-0 draw against Libya. (AFP) A Mohamed Salah-inspired Egypt booked their place last month. (AP) Morocco’s Noureddine Amrabat was a key man in his side making it to Russia next summer. (AFP)