Asia and Africa at FIFA WORLD CUP 2018 RUSSIA
When the month long 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup football kicks off in Russia on June 14, 2018, it will be completing 88 years during which period the game has been dominated by European and South American sides with European nations winning it eleven times and South American countries nine times clearly a huge gap between nations from these two continents and those from Africa and Asia.
Though the world body FIFA has been making all out efforts to get countries from Asia and Africa have more representation, it is indeed creditable that the progress by African countries does give rise to hopes of cup going to Africa in years to come.
The upcoming World Cup will see ten nations from Africa and Asia including Australia in action with five from each of them. With over 119 players from these teams playing in top leagues in Europe, Asia and America including English Premier League, Spanish La league, French Ligue, Italian Serie A and the German Bundesliga, many of the teams have indeed raised their standard specially those from Africa.
African nation of Senegal has the highest number of players in European leagues totaling 21 with players like Sadio Mane of Liverpool, Diafra Sakho of West Ham United, Idrissa Gnaya of Everton, Kalidou Konlibaly of Napoli and Keita Balde of French club Monaco.
Senegal ranked 32 in the world are in Group H along with Poland (6), Colombia (13) and Japan (44) may find the going tough but with the kind of talent in their ranks, they could well spring a surprise just as in 1990 Cameroon in their second appearance at the World Cup defeated holders Argetina in the opening match in Rome and became the first African country to reach the quarterfinals of the tournament.
With over 100 footballers from Africa playing in various European leagues, the challenge from the African continent is indeed growing and in the World Cup in Russia, Morocco is the highest ranked side at 28 from the two continents followed by Egypt at 30.
Tunisia known as Eagles of Carthage who are the highest ranked at 28 among African and Asian nations have been drawn in a group rated to be among the strongest having Belgium, England and Panama even though Panama is ranked 49th in the world but are a tough side while Belgium is ranked at five and England at 12.Over a dozen Tunisians play in English and European leagues including Ajben Abdennou who plays for French side Marseille and Yoann Touzgar for Auxerre and can bring an upset win.
Nigeria known as Super Eagles have in their ranks players like Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi and captain John Obi Mikel who currently plays for Chinese side having earlier played for Chelsea as also 21 year old Kelechi Promise Iheanacho who currently plays for Leicester City in the Centre Forward position having moved from Manchester City.
Three times African nations cup winners, Nigeria who are currently 41 in FIFA ranking and managed by German Gernot Rohr have since 1994 World Cup in USA qualified six times out of seven missing out the World Cup of 2006 in Germany. Their best ranking was in April 1994 when they were number five.
Nigeria are in group with Argentina (4), Croatia (18) and Iceland (21) and going is indeed tough for the Super Eagles from Africa though the team definitely has the talent and capability of bringing off an upset.
Egypt (30) known as the Pharaohs are in group with hosts Russia (65), Uruguay (17) and Saudi Arabia (63), and would find the going tough for Russia at home could be formidable while Uruguay are a strong side from South America having in their ranks players like Suarez who plays for Spanish side Barcelona and Edison Cavani who plays for the leading French club Paris Saint Germain. Egypt does have a class player like Salah who plays for English Premier league side Liverpool and has in the current season been a fairly prolific scorer.They also have in their ranks Mohammed Elneny who plays for Arsenal.
Morocco (48) are in a group with Asian qualifier Iran (34) alongwith heavyweights European Champions Portugal (3) and Spain (8) so it is virtually curtains for these Morocco and Iran after the first round since the top two teams qualify for the next round.
The going does appear to be difficult for South Korea whose best performance was in 2002 when the World Cup was jointly hosted by them with Japan. The Koreans reached the semifinals and lost to Turkey in the losing semifinalists and took third place.
In the upcoming tournament, the Koreans ranked 62 are placed with holders Germany, Mexico (16) and Sweden (25) who knocked out three times winners Italy in the qualifying stages with the Italians having to face the ignominy of failing to make it to the World Cup finals in 58 years.
For the Koreans who do have in their ranks a player like Son Heung-Min who plays for Tottenham Hotspur and has been doing extremely well for them as also Ki Sung-Yueng of Swansea City and Lee Chung-Yong of Crystal Palace, but the other teams in the group are tough nuts to crack.
The other Asian nation who too have tremendous talent in their side and are 44 in world ranking is Japan but are in a group where the going would be tough for them as they have Poland (6), Colombia (13) and Senegal (32).
Almost 18 Japanese players are playing in the top leagues such as Yuto Nagatomo who plays for Italian Serie A side Internazionale, Hiroki Sakai for French side Marseille and Gotoku Sakai for German side Hamaburg. Another Japanese who has been doing well is Shinji Okazaki for Leicester City in English Premier League and Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa.
Australia ranked 43 too have a tough group which has France (7), Peru (10) and Denmark (19) even though the Socceroos as Australians are known have players like Tim Cahill who plays for German club Hertha Berlin, Robbie Kruse of VFL Bochum, Aaron Mony of Huddersfield and Mitchell Langerek of Levante of Spain.
By Sri Krishna