The heirs of West Africa’s stars carry all our hopes

Sunday Times - - Opinion -

In a joke do­ing the rounds on so­cial me­dia, a What­sApp group of African na­tional soc­cer teams lists Egypt and Morocco as hav­ing “left the group”, Zim­babwe as be­ing “blocked”, and South Africa as “last seen” in 2010. The Pharaohs’ chances of mak­ing an im­pact at the World Cup in Rus­sia were al­ways slim, and faded fur­ther when Span­ish ruf­fian Ser­gio Ramos re­tired Mo­hamed Salah through in­jury in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal be­fore the Fifa spec­ta­cle in Rus­sia had even be­gun. With Salah not fully fit from that shoul­der in­jury, Egypt’s jour­ney — the first time they had qual­i­fied for the foot­ball fi­esta since 1990 — was al­ways go­ing to be briefer than a short sight­see­ing stint.

As for Morocco, coach Hervé Re­nard was ex­cep­tional in end­ing their 20-year ab­sence from the global spec­ta­cle, but the At­las Lions’ World Cup jaunt mir­rored that of Egypt, end­ing af­ter two rounds of the three-match group stage. Tu­nisia’s de­feat yes­ter­day to Bel­gium means the Carthage Ea­gles will be on a flight home this week, even if they beat Panama in their third and fi­nal match on Thurs­day.

It is the Lions of Teranga — Sa­dio Mané’s Sene­gal — and Ahmed Musa’s Nigeria who have brought smiles to the faces of foot­ball-lov­ing Africans, with im­pres­sive vic­to­ries against Poland and Iceland re­spec­tively.

Claim­ing those scalps means that should Sene­gal beat Ja­pan, and if Nigeria regis­ter their first World Cup tri­umph over an out-of-sorts Ar­gentina at the fifth at­tempt, Africa’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Rus­sia will ex­tend to the last 16. And hope­fully to the quar­ter­fi­nal stage too, which has been the ceil­ing for African teams at this com­pe­ti­tion: Cameroon in 1990, Sene­gal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

In as­sem­bling their squads, Sene­gal and Nigeria have called on tal­ented play­ers who hold their own in the top Euro­pean leagues. Now these West African teams carry on their shoul­ders the hopes of all Africans, from the Cape to Cairo and from Morocco to Mozam­bique. May they proudly up­hold the legacy of play­ers like Roger Milla, Ge­orge Weah, Abedi Pele and Jay-Jay Okocha, who were the pathfind­ers in show­cas­ing African skills and open­ing doors for the con­ti­nent’s play­ers around the world.

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