On Thursday June 14, football lovers around the world celebrated the kicking-off of the 21st edition of one of the world’s greatest sporting events, the Fifa World Cup, in Russia.
Although none of the East African countries qualified, the continent is represented by five countries; Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
And it is not for the lack of trying. The Uganda Cranes, Kenya’s Harambee Stars, Tanzania’s Taifa Stars, Rwanda’s Amavubi, with the exception of Burundi’s Swallows, were all in the race to Russia 2018, but fell on the wayside as African countries fought tooth and nail for the five slots.
Only the best made it. All hopes are now on the 2022 edition in Qatar, where hopefully, there could be nine slots for Africa and when Fifa expands the tournament to 48 teams at the 2026 episode.
The Uganda Cranes came closest to qualifying for Russia 2018 but were beaten to the Group E ticket by a Mohamed Salah-inspired Egypt Pharaohs.
The only East African taking part in Russia is Burundian Jean-Claude Birumushahu, who is one of the assistant referees from Africa.
Kenyan referee Aden Marwa Range resigned days to the tournament following an expose by Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas that showed him receiving a $600 bribe in a documentary released by the BBC on corruption in African football.
Here is a list of African wonder boys to watch:-
The last time Egypt featured at the Fifa World Cup Mohammed Salah the current team talisman had not yet been born.
Almost three decades later, the Pharaohs are back. During the lull, they lifted the Afcon title four times in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010, the last three under coach Hassan Shehata.
The renaissance under Héctor Cúper has been fuelled by emergence of Salah. The Liverpool forward arrives in Russia in best form having scored 44 goals across all competitions.
He hurt his shoulder during the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid in May but has recovered in good time.
Salah is the hope of over 100 million Egyptians and the continent at large. The Pharaohs are in Group A with Russia, Saudi Arabia and two-time champions Uruguay.
Best World Cup: Group stage (1990).
Goalkeepers: Essam El Hadary (Al Taawoun), Mohamed El-Shennawy, Sherif Ekramy (both Al Ahly).
Defenders: Ahmed Fathi, Saad Samir, Ayman Ashraf (all Al Ahly), Mahmoud Hamdy (Zamalek), Mohamed Abdel-Shafy (Al Fateh), Ahmed Hegazi (West Brom), Ali Gabr (Zamalek), Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa), Omar Gaber (Los Angeles FC).
Midfielders: Tarek Hamed, (Zamalek), Abdallah Said (Al Ahli), Sam Morsy (Wigan Athletic), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke City), Mahmoud Hassan (Kasimpasa).
Forwards: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Marwan Mohsen (Al Ahly), Shikabala (Zamalek), Amr Warda (Atromitos), Mahmoud Kahraba (Al Ittihad).
Morocco’s return to the World Cup after 20 years is no brainer following the rejuvenation of their club football.
Last year, two-time Afcon winning coach Herve Renard masterminded big chances in the Atlas Lions’ den as they made it out of the Afcon groups for the first time since finishing second in 2004.
Unfortunately its bid to host the 2026 edition stood no chance. The finals were awarded jointly to USA, Mexico and Canada on Wednesday.
However, the immediate task is quenching the World Cup thirst in style against 2010 champions Spain, European kings Portugal and Iran.
Best World Cup: Round of 16 (1986).
Goalkeepers: Mounir El Kajoui (Numancia), Yassine Bounou (Girona), Ahmad Reda Tagnaouti (Ittihad Tanger).
Defenders: Mehdi Benatia (Juventus), Romain Saiss (Wolves), Manuel Da Costa (Istanbul Basaksehir), Nabil Dirar (Fenerbahce), Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid), Hamza Mendyl (Lille).
Midfielders: M’barek Boussoufa (Al Jazira), Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Youssef Ait Bennasser (Caen), Sofyan Amrabat (Feyenoord), Younes Belhanda (Galatasaray), Faycal Fajr (Getafe), Amine Harit (Schalke).
Forwards: Khalid Boutaib (Malatyaspor), Aziz Bouhaddouz (St Pauli), Ayoub El Kaabi (Renaissance Berkane), Nordin Amrabat (Leganes), Mehdi Carcela (Standard Liege), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax), Youssef En Nesyri (Malaga).
Preparations for the qualifiers for Russia 2018 began early and German coach Gernot Rohr sealed the job without much fuss in a group that had 2014 World Cup finalists Algeria, Africa’s record seven-time World Cup representatives Cameroon and 2012 Afcon kings Zambia.
Best World Cup: Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014).
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna), Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba), Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United).
Defenders: William Troost-Ekong, Abdullahi Shehu (both Bursaspor), Tyronne Ebuehi (Benfica), Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge), Bryan Idowu (Amkar Perm), Chidozie Awaziem (Porto), Leon Balogun (Brighton), Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea).
Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Tianjin Teda), Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester), Oghenekaro Etebo (CD Feirense), John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Joel Obi (Torino, Italy).
Forwards: Ahmed Musa, Kelechi Iheanacho (both Leicester), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone).
Senegal’s Teranga Lions will always take pride in their 2002 World Cup opening game against then reigning champions France. They beat France 1-0 and have built on that winning goal by Papa Bouba Diop to put up a run that ended in a 1-0 quarterfinal loss to Turkey.
The team featured Aliou Cissé as captain, who now heads to Russia as coach of a promising squad with players like Monaco’s Keita Balde, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye and star man Sadio Mane from Liverpool.
In Group H, arguably the most balanced pool in Russia, Senegal have every reason to count their chances against Colombia, Japan and Poland.
Best World Cup: Quarterfinals (2002).
Goalkeepers: Khadim N’Diaye (Horoya AC), Abdoulaye Diallo (Rennes), Alfred Gomis (Torino).
Defenders: Kara Mbodji (Anderlecht), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Moussa Wague (Eupen), Saliou Ciss (Angers), Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux), Lamine Gassama (Alanyaspor).
Midfielders: Badou Ndiaye (Stoke), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham), Cheikh N’Doye (Birmingham), Salif Sane (Hannover 96), Alfred N’Diaye (Villarreal).
Forwards: Moussa Sow (Bursaspor), Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Keita Balde Diao (Monaco), Moussa Konate (Amiens), Ismaila Sarr (Rennes), Diafra Sakho (Rennes), Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke), M’Baye Niang (AC Milan).
The Eagles of Carthage have over the years contended with a high turnover of players and coaches.
The midfield will determine how far they will go in the tournament. The inclusion of Wahbi Khazri and Naim Sliti however makes the team sharp going forward.
Facing star-studded opposition in England and Belgium in Group G will not be a walk in the park.
Best World Cup: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006).
Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab), Mouez Hassen (Nice), Aymen Mathlouthi (Al Baten).
Defenders: Rami Bedoui (Etoile du Sahel), Yohan Benalouane (Leicester), Syam Ben Youssef (Kasimpasa), Dylan Bronn (Gent), Oussama Haddadi (Dijon), Ali Maaloul (Al Ahly), Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek).
Midfielders: Wahbi Khazri (Rennes), Anice Badri (Esperance), Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Etoile Sportive du Sahel), Ferjani Sassi (Al Nasr), Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier).
Forwards: Saifeddine Khaoui (Marseille), Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al Ettifaq), Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), Bassem Srarfi (Nice), Naim Sliti (Lille), Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), Ghaylen Chaaleli (Esperance).