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