It was never going to be easy for the African teams in the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the first round of games showed that. None of the five teams were able to get a win and the two games they did manage to get a point were both goalless draws. At face value, it’s not the ideal start but there was a lot to build on and a lot of optimism that can be taken into the next round of games which can help kickstart a run to the knockout stages.
The tournament kicked off on day 2 when the champions of Africa went toe to toe with the Netherlands. For large parts of that game, Senegal were the superior team, having the better chances and looking most likely to score. They just seemed to run out of ideas in the final third at times and it came back to bite them.
This team was built for and around Sadio Mané and replacing a player like him is impossible for any team. Even without their main man, they showed why they are Africa’s elite. The 2-0 loss doesn’t reflect the overall game, especially when both goals scored by the Netherlands could have been avoided with better goalkeeping by Édouard Mendy.
The first points for an African side came from an unlikely source as Tunisia managed a 0-0 draw against Denmark. Whilst not always pleasing on the eye, Tunisia managed to stop a fluid Denmark side from scoring or even creating any real chances. With less than 40% possession of the ball and just the 1 shot on target, they came with a game plan and stuck to it, and they picked up a much-needed point to open their campaign.
Morocco were up against the team that finished second at the last World Cup in Croatia. Throughout the week, the Moroccan fans have been a joy to watch in Doha, regarded by many as the best group of fans at the tournament thus far. Following their golden generation, they expected their team to do well, and they weren’t disappointed.
Although it ended 0-0 and had very few chances on both ends, there were moments where Morocco looked very good. The right side of their attack was threatening all game, with Hakim Ziyech cutting in and Achraf Hakimi on the overlap. If they can put it all together, the Atlas Lions will be a scary team to face for any team.
In the fourth game, the golden rule of football was on full display. If you don’t finish your chances, they will come back to bite you and that is exactly what happened with Cameroon. In the first half, they created a few very good chances that should have really been put away, but they weren’t and three minutes into the second half, Switzerland scored.
Cameroon may not have the firepower of Senegal and Morocco, but they have a very strong balance and are structured. But you have to finish your chances at this level or you will be punished. To make it even worse, the winning goal was scored by Breel Embolo who was born in Cameroon. He didn’t celebrate, but it hurt all the same.
But the best was saved until the very last. Ghana vs Portugal. Many people didn’t know what to expect from Ghana after a very up-and-down year. Crashing out of the African Cup of Nations in embarrassing fashion, then beating rivals Nigeria to book their place at the World Cup, you didn’t know which Ghana you were going to get, but the Ghana we got did not disappoint.
They defended well in the first and looked threatening on the counter, but the second half was a very exciting back-and-forth encounter. A contentious penalty awarded was put away by Cristiano Ronaldo early in the second half and that’s exactly what the game needed.
Shortly after, Ghana equalised, but taking off Mohammed Kudus completely tipped the balance of the game back in Portugal’s favour. The game was soon out of reach when Portugal made it 3-1 with 10 minutes to play, but when Ghana got one back in the 89th minute via Osman Bukari and nearly secured a last-second equalizer with Iñaki Williams coming close to picking Diogo Costa’s pocket.
The second round of matches has seen Morocco get their first World Cup win since 1998 and defeat Belgium 2-0, whilst Tunisia fell to a 1-0 defeat to Australia and Senegal defeated Qatar 3-1. Ghana and Cameroon will be looking to close out the second round of matches with strong results against South Korea and Serbia — if they can, we may not see a repeat of 2018 when each of the five African sides failed to reach the knockout round.
By: Mohamed Salad / @SaladNFL
Featured Image: @GabFoligno – Robin Jones / Getty Images