By Victor Okoye
Abuja – There have been exceptional performances at the ongoing 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia but the African teams have not particularly had a bright start to their campaign in the 21st edition of the Coupe de Mundial.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that all five participating African teams with the exception of Senegal lost their opening matches.
The first African team to ever play in a World Cup finals and began their campaign in Russia is Egypt.
They returned to the world stage after 28 years and lost by a lone goal to Uruguay, no thanks to an own goal by Azeez Aziz Bouhaddouz in the 89th minute which gave the South Americans the victory.
The second African team to lose their opening match was Morocco who also conceded a late own goal to Iran.
Then came the turn of the Super Eagles of Nigeria who suffered a 0-2 defeat in the hands of Croatia.
These results sparked divergent views among sports enthusiasts about the ability of the African teams to make it out of the group stage.
Many, however, hinged their hopes on Tunisia to beat England or at worst secure a draw, but yet again, it was the European side who took the day through another late goal by Harry Kane.
The last African side to begin their campaign was Senegal. They no doubt brought a glimmer of hope to Africans as they defeated Poland 2-1.
NAN also reports that the five African teams have conceded a total of 11 goals so far with Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt all on the verge of World Cup exit.
A cross section of football enthusiasts who spoke to NAN at a viewing centre at Druz Resort in Maitama noted that Africa’s campaign at the World Cup had been disappointing so far.
Businessman Ernest Frank said the African teams, especially Nigeria and the North African teams had0 performed below par.
“Most of the African teams did well but have failed to measure up to their opponents.
“I mean, look at how Morocco played against Iran. They had the game in their hands but they couldn’t convert their chances and were made to rue their missed goal scoring chances.
“They were also technically sound against Portugal, but just one from Ronaldo was all the Portuguese needed to edge them out.
“So far, I have not been impressed by the performances of the other African teams at the World Cup, with the exception of Senegal who have given me a little more reason to believe in Africa,” he said.
A civil servant, Ignatius Ojobo, said that in spite of their dismal performance, he was hopeful that one or two of the African teams would make it out of the group stage.
“I strongly believe that one or two of the African teams will make it to the knockout stage. I particularly tip Senegal and Nigeria to make the African continent proud.
“They are both looking good even though Nigeria lost to a highly tactical Croatian side in their opening game.
“All they need now is a win against Iceland and at least a draw against Argentina, while Senegal need only a win from their remaining two games or a draw in both games to go through,” he said.
Segun Adekeye, a lawyer, noted that most of the goals conceded by the Africans had been through set pieces, while some had been conceded towards the end of regulation time.
He added that football academies all over the African continent still had a lot to do in terms of training of players and exposing them to some of these latest techniques and tactics in the game.
“The trend by the Africans at this World Cup have been to concede late goals and through set pieces too.
“All but three of the opening World Cup games where African teams have featured recorded goals scored through set pieces, either directly or indirectly.
“Something must be responsible for this hoodoo which has worked well for the Europeans against the African teams.
“I think the African teams lack the technical and tactical know-how to defend these set pieces and often lose a little bit of concentration towards the end of the game.
“These are some lapses the European teams have discovered and have exploited to their advantage,” he said.
Adekeye was of the view that football academies across Africa must begin to pay attention to this trend and ensure that set piece delivery as well as ways to defend them are well researched and practiced.
“Set piece delivery is a technique which the Europeans have mastered and are using to edge out African teams at the slightest opportunity, so, I see no reason why we cannot work hard to stop this trend.