It’s perhaps, West Africa’s time to shine at the ongoing Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup with Ghana’s Black Stars and Cameroun’s Indomitable Lions entering the fray today.
Africa has recorded mixed fortunes at the competition with Senegal opening the continent’s account with a 2-0 defeat by Holland, while Tunisia and Morocco managed to hold their own against Denmark and Croatia respectively.
Today, against a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal, Ghana have their work cut out. They must neutralise the departing Manchester United stalwart and Portugal’s talented midfield, comprising Bruno Fernandes, Bernado Silva, Ruben Neves and William Carvalho.
Since Ghana defeated Nigeria to win the trip to Qatar, they have rebuilt the team, brought in new players such that Coach Otto Addo is now spoilt for choice.
Speaking at the official media briefing, yesterday, Addo downplayed talks of another upset after Saudi Arabia and Japan’s victories over Argentina and Germany respectively. But admitted, however, that Black Stars’ priority going into their Group H opener is to beat Portugal.
Ranked the lowest country at the global showpiece, Ghana will begin their journey against Portugal at the Stadium 974.
Not worried by his team’s global rating, Addo said Ghana’s aim is to qualify for the knockout stages with beating Portugal the first step to that goal. He said: “Surely, we want to survive the group stage. We want to go game by game so our full focus is on the Portuguese game. If we don’t look too far and we concentrate on the next game, I think we can do something.
“From there, nobody knows, it depends on who you get and also how you play.
“It’s very difficult to predict so our main focus is to win against Portugal, which will be very difficult. After that, we’ll look at the next step.”
Black Stars Captain, Andre Ayew, echoes his coach’s optimism, saying that their aim is to start on a high. Ayew does not believe Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit from Manchester United will affect their game against Portugal as he urged his side to be ‘brave’ in the game, which starts by 5.00 p.m. Nigeria time.
Ronaldo, on Tuesday, announced he had parted ways with the Old Trafford club by mutual consent after scathing public comments he had made towards the United hierarchy and coach Erik ten Hag.
However, Ayew said this should not be a distraction for Portugal.
“It is not our problem what is happening within the Portuguese team,” the 32-year-old national midfield stalwart, who plays for Qatar’s Al Sadd said.
“They are all great professionals playing at top teams and they will be ready for the World Cup, whatever else is happening.”
“Portugal are favourites on paper. But we have to show that what happens on the pitch is more important. We are playing a big side with top players, but we believe in ourselves and will make it difficult for them.
“When you are playing the first game of a tournament it is never the decisive one. Whatever happens, you still have a chance to go through,” he said.
Before Ghana joins the battle at Stadium 974, Cameroun’s Indomitable Lions will be the fourth African team to join the fight for glory when they meet Switzerland by 11.00 a.m.
Speaking during the team’s media briefing on Monday, Cameroun’s Assistant Coach, Sébastien Migne, said the Lions would take the games as they come. He, however, assured their fans that “we come to show the best of Cameroun.”
Migne admitted that opening games are usually tricky, adding that their main objective, just like Ghana, is to qualify for the second round.
He explained: “Obviously, when you start a tournament, you need to think step by step, the first stage is to qualify for the knock out stage. To be in the first two teams (of this group) that will continue the dream, to get closer to the trophy.”
Rigoberg Song’s team have not won any game since their dramatic victory over Algeria in their last World Cup qualifier.
“Our qualities will allow us to fight against such teams (Switzerland), which is 14 in the FIFA rankings… We do know that we have an opponent the same size as this tournament.”
The squad features stars like Aboubakar Vincent, Karl Toko Ekambi and Bayern Munich player of the month Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. Even though the president of the federation and former player Eto’o has set very ambitious goals for his national team, Cameroun will have to play record holder Brazil and Serbia in group G.
Cameroun are one of just three African nations to have reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup – alongside Senegal and Ghana – a feat they famously achieved in 1990, in Italy.
The current team have the ambition of emulating their illustrious forebears, Roger Milla, Francois Oman Biyik, Thomas Nkono, Emmanuel Kunde and Emile Mbou Mbou. That test starts today.
Yesterday, Africa recorded an impressive result when Morocco held 2018 finalists, Croatia, to a goalless draw. Backed by Qatar’s large Moroccan community at the Al Bayt Stadium, the Atlas Lions followed up north African rivals, Tunisia’s strong performance against dark horses Denmark a day earlier to frustrate Croatia.
“This was an extremely difficult game,” said Croatia captain Modric. “I do believe as the tournament goes on we’ll be better and we’ll adopt a more proactive attitude.”
Morocco took the game to a Croatia side featuring four players, who started the 2018 final, but struggled to create genuine chances against a defence marshalled by the experienced Dejan Lovren.
Azzedine Ounahi strangely opted against shooting when well placed inside the area, with Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi heavily involved down the right without ever truly threatening Croatia.
Only once have Morocco gone beyond the group stage, in 1986, but they will rate their chances of advancing with games to come against an ageing Belgium team and Group F outsiders, Canada.