The 100-day countdown to the 2022 FIFA World Cup started last Friday, and if any of the 32 qualified sides were waiting for the clock to start ticking before getting their preparations off the ground, well, there isn’t too long to go now, is there?
No African team has ever advanced beyond the last eight, and the three to have made it that far – Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana – would now be determined to go even farther; Morocco would take a maiden quarter-final ticket, while Tunisia look to emerge unscathed from a World Cup group for the very first time.
Whatever the actual targets may be, the aforementioned quintet can’t go wrong with the following how-to pointers.
SELECT/START THE RIGHT MEN
There’s no surer way to put your best foot forward at the World Cup than by selecting and starting the right playing personnel.
And while it appears pretty straightforward, that logic hasn’t always seemed so obvious to Mundial-bound African teams over the decades.
Players must be picked based, solely, on merit; relying on any other criteria would simply amount to setting up for failure. And if any players – regardless of profile or rank or experience – are injured or even half-fit, there’s no point taking them along for the trip.
To compromise on these basics is, by extension, to compromise on everything else.
The trio of African World Cup quarter-finalists started their historic runs the same way: with victories, albeit by slender margins.
Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) got off the mark in stunning fashion by defeating reigning world champions 1-0; Ghana, even if against less illustrious opposition, snatched their own 1-0 win at South Africa 2010.
Pulling off a similar feat this time won’t be any easier: all five African sides are ranked outside the top 17 places by FIFA, while all their first five opponents are in the top 16.
Tough, yes, but that’s also why getting the better of any of those could generate so much momentum with which to kick on.
DON’T RELY ON THE SUPERSTARS
Each team at Qatar 2022 would have at least one stand-out player, that reference point to whom everyone else turns for inspiration.
It just so happens, though, that African sides tend to rely a bit too heavily on their own superstars; take that iconic figure out of the equation and the whole unit crumbles or, at best, starts to wobble.
Winning football games, however, is very much a team effort, and especially with the intricacy and delicacy of modern tactics rendering one cog just as vital as the other, all parts must be incorporated into the proper functioning of a cohesive collective.
The North Africans tend to do better at this than their sub-Saharan peers, so… yea, you know yourselves.
Trying to conquer the world is rather serious business, one that demands unwavering focus and leaves no room for distraction.
African sides, unfortunately, haven’t always stayed fully tuned-in at the finals; hardly a World Cup goes by without one or the other being dogged by some row over unpaid fees/bonuses.
The likes of Zaire (now DR Congo), Nigeria and Togo have all been there, before Ghana took the cake with the mother of all fiascoes in Brazil eight years ago.
It goes without saying that any team with sincere intentions of doing well at the World Cup can’t afford all that needless drama and controversy.
Just make sure you tie all loose ends before landing in Qatar, lest it trips you up on the big stage.
Finally, get this into your head: there is no grand plot, orchestrated by unseen forces, to ensure an African side doesn’t go all the way at the World Cup.
If we’d have to wait another four years to shatter that glass barrier, it’s simply because the rest of the world – Europe and South America, particularly – is still miles ahead.
And, really, if you start off thinking there are invisible ropes tying down Africa, where would the incentive be to wholeheartedly commit to the cause of trying to scale new heights?