After a lethargic start, during which none managed to win in the opening round of games, Africa’s contingent at the 2022 Fifa World Cup has now clicked into gear, with three wins from five.
Ink & Kicks assesses how the five teams did individually, and where the latest set of results leaves each ahead of the final group matches.
In the end, Senegal’s victory over Qatar – unsurprising, of course – felt a bit more laboured than it really should have been, only secured shortly before full-time by a fine Bamba Dieng finish.
The Qatari reacted better to going two goals down than they did against Ecuador in their tournament-opener, fighting to get one back through Ghanaian-born Mohammed Muntari; but for some top goalkeeping from Edouard Mendy, they may well have pulled level.
The glow of the Gulf state’s maiden World Cup goal quickly faded, however, when Dieng stepped up to seal Africa’s first win at the event. The result sees Senegal third in Group A, following their earlier defeat to the Netherlands, with as good a chance of making progress as the table-topping Oranje and second-placed Ecuador, Senegal’s final group opponents.
Three more points will definitely guarantee progress, while a draw – with the Netherlands expected to make light work of already-eliminated Qatar – would likely do them no good at all.
A draw in their first game, against Denmark, had certainly been a fine outcome for Tunisia, considering the quality of the opposition. Australia, a much weaker side, were deemed a less problematic lot, but Tunisia found them far more of a handful last Saturday.
Mitchell Duke, with a goal that made him only the eighth scorer in the Socceroos’ long World Cup history, handed his country a first win at the finals in a decade. At the other end of the pitch, too, Graham Arnold’s team was crushing jinxes, the clean sheet recorded by the Aussie defence a first in nearly half-a-century of Mundial football.
The French have already qualified, and Didier Deschamps may wish to take advantage of that luxury by resting some of his best players for the more testing challenge to come.
Yet such is the depth of the reigning champions’ squad that even a second-string lineup might still be a bit too much for Tunisia. Mathematically, Kadri’s team have a chance of going through; realistically, though, they’re going home — especially as their fate depends, too, on the other Group D game between Australia and Denmark.
For inspiration to take on and overcome the might of France, Tunisia only need turn to Morocco, their north African neighbours, who pulled off one of the shocks of the tournament on Sunday by beating Belgium, the second-best side in the world.
The Belgians had been sub-par as a collective against rookies Canada, only winning narrowly, but they plumbed new depths in their next outing. Morocco ran out 2-0 winners, substitutes Abdelhamid Sabiri and Zakaria Aboukhlal scoring a pair of well-taken goals.
It was a tactical masterstroke from trainer Walid Regragui, appointed not long after guiding Moroccan giants WAC to Champions League glory only earlier this year. Hakim Ziyech, the star forward Regragui reinstated in the team after taking up the reins, ran the show, deservedly named Man of the Match.
Courtesy of this upset, Morocco are well-placed to reach the Round of 16 for just the first time since 1986; a point against Canada – already out of their first World Cup since Morocco last featured in the knock-outs, but with a say still – should get the Atlas Lions over the line.
Cameroon shrugged it off, however, going in front through Jean-Charles Castelletto. That advantage didn’t last, though, with Serbia coming back strong in first-half added time. Strahinja Pavlovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic turned the game around in a matter of minutes; shortly after the break, in-form Fulham man Aleksandar Mitrovic stretched his country’s lead by one.
But then came Cameroon’s own spell of rapid goalscoring, triggered by the introduction of 2022 Africa Cup of Nations hero Vincent Aboubakar who, at these finals, has only been used surprisingly sparingly.
Completing that comeback did give off triumphant vibes – they certainly celebrated like it – but Cameroon only ended up with a point; not good enough, considering they lost their first game and have their third to come against Brazil, everybody’s favourites.
At least, though, they’d go into that decisive fixture in high spirits on the back of Monday’s rousing result.
If anyone had suggested another African side — Ghana — would score three goals on the same day that one — Cameroon — had done the same, that prediction wouldn’t have been easy to believe, for one simple reason: such a thing had never happened before.
But it did here, with the Black Stars battling to a 3-2 victory, pushed all the way by South Korea for well over 100 minutes – with the Asian side’s trainer, Paulo Bento, red-carded post-match for demanding a bit more action – in what would go down, much like the earlier Cameroon-Serbia game, as a modern World Cup classic.
Ghana had lost to Portugal four days prior by the same score, but they emerged at the right end on this occasion.
Yet, impressive as they were in attack, proceeding far more forthrightly than they did last time out, the final result owed much more to Ghana’s ability to zealously and tirelessly guard their goal – and they certainly had to do a lot of that from the moment the lively Mohammed Kudus scored what would prove the winner, his second goal on the day – in extinguishing the red-hot Korean flames.
They’re off the floor of Group H now, up and running, and raring to take on Uruguay in an encounter that – for psychological reasons, at least – would demand more of the same from them… and maybe a whole lot more, if the Black Stars are to kick on from this big win.