Qatar 2022 finally graced our screens with Ecuador silencing the hosts with a 2-0 win at Al Bayt Stadium.
Africa’s representatives begin their competition with Senegal’s tournament opener with the Netherlands on Monday, with Tunisia, Morocco, Cameroon and Ghana all to play in the coming days.
In this feature, GOAL considers the prospects of the continent’s sides making it to the Round of 16.
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Much has been made of Sadio Mane’s absence and Aliou Cisse’s ability to find solutions
The Lions of Teranga are talented, even without the Bayern Munich superstar, but will have to get positive results against Monday’s opponents the Netherlands, or Ecuador, who got off to a promising start by defeating the host nation on Sunday.
Even though Louis van Gaal’s crew are favourites to progress as group winners and the South American nation’s mean defence will be problematic to break down, four points could secure qualification.
Senegal missed out on the Round of 16 four years ago owing to the punishing fair play points tie-breaker and the African champions will reckon they have enough quality in attack without Mane to reach minimum expectations.
The Atlas Lions’ form since the Africa Cup of Nations has been outstanding. The North African nation have been beaten once since that extra time loss at the hands of Egypt, losing 3-0 to the United States of America in a friendly in June.
Jettisoning Vahid Halilhodzic for Walid Regragui three months to the finals raised doubts but three wins and a draw in recent tune-up games suggest the Moroccans’ preparations are going swimmingly.
Hakim Ziyech, who fell out with the sacked Franco-Bosnian, and Noussair Mazraoui, who returned after a two-year absence for tune-up encounters with Chile and Paraguay, are back in the side.
The Chelsea man’s final third quality will be essential to the Atlas Lions’ prospects and a stunning goal from inside his half in last week’s 3-0 success over Georgia reminded observers of his ability.
Indeed, the Chelsea man’s understanding with Paris Saint-Germain wing-back Achraf Hakimi will be vital to causing menace down Morocco’s right flank.
Making it out of Group F will not be a walk in the park, with Belgium’s Golden Generation making its last play for a major title and Croatia, beaten finalists in 2018, standing in their way as favourites.
It will be ill-advised to discount a Canadian side returning to the competition since their only previous appearance in 1986, and Morocco will still have to prove themselves worthy of maximum points.
However, Morocco have failed to make it out of their group on their last three appearances in 1994, 1998 and 2018 and we are predicting the same for the Atlas Lions.
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If Tunisia’s tune-up games from late September are anything to go by, an early exit is on the cards in Qatar.
The Eagles of Carthage were unconvincing in their 1-0 success over Comoros and appeared tactically undercooked in the 5-1 thrashing by Brazil.
A group containing defending world champions France, Denmark and Australia will pose challenges for Jalel Kadri’s troops who face Didier Deschamps' men in their final group game.
Going into that fixture with qualification unresolved could be tricky, especially if Les Blues need maximum points to secure progress to the Round of 16.
Tunisia have never made it out of the group in five previous appearances, claiming only two wins from a staggering 15 games, and are unlikely to prevent an early exit at the sixth attempt.
With World Cup favourites Brazil to contend with, the Indomitable Lions already look to be battling for second spot in Group G before a ball is kicked.
Rigobert Song’s crew will tussle with Switzerland and Serbia before facing Tite’s men in their third game hoping to have sewn up progress before that December 2 encounter.
Defeats to Uzbekistan and South Korea in September could have been overlooked owing to the absences of Karl Toko Ekambi, Andre Zambo Anguissa and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting but the inability to secure a positive result in last week’s Panama friendly must set alarm bells ringing.
Frankly, the Central African nation will require a miracle to go through.
The mood around Ghana before last week’s 2-0 Switzerland result was mostly pessimism but the victory over the European nation has lifted the place.
Otto Addo’s men picked up that win without Thomas Partey, suggesting they can find ways to win without the Arsenal midfielder.
A group comprising Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay is not as daunting as it appears on paper but much will depend on the Black Stars finding solutions to their goalscoring bugbear.
Addo’s blend of youth and experience promotes optimism and we are backing the Black Stars to find a way to make it out of Group H. Four points ought to do it.