Senegal to make the biggest impression of African contingent

Teranga Lions to go the farthest at the FIFA World Cup
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Senegal set to impress at Russia 2018 (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

World Cup Top African Team Betting Tips


The FIFA World Cup in Russia will have five African teams participating. Once again, the African legion will be looking to surpass the continent’s best ever feat at the world’s showpiece tournament.

Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) remain Africa’s best performers after making it to the Quarterfinals in past tournaments. This year, the Continent will be represented by Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

There will be more teams from the north than elsewhere on the continent, including a first appearance in 28 years for Egypt and a return after 20 years for Morocco.

Nigeria will be appearing at their sixth World Cup while Senegal will be making only their second appearance. 

By the virtue of the groups they have been drawn in, Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia will have to be at their very best to get out of tough pools. The trio look unlikely to progress amongst some of the biggest names in football.

Egypt though will be reliant on the fitness of Mohamed Salah while Senegal look to have the easiest group of the lot.

Nigeria


Super Eagles of Nigeria (IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigeria are in the same group as Argentina, Croatia and Iceland, which is a very difficult group on paper. The Super Eagles haven’t been in the best form in the build up to the tournament and look unlikely to produce an upset in Russia.

The Super Eagles' combative and dynamic midfield, led by captain John Obi Mikel and Leicester City's Wilfred Ndidi, paired with the attacking power of Arsenal's Alex Iwobi and Leicester City's Kelechi Iheanacho look promising.

However, they'll be missing legendary goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who retired after the last World Cup, as well as his replacement, Carl Ikeme, who had to retire last year due to a leukemia diagnosis. This could be their biggest Achilles heel heading to Russia.

The Nigerian defence has struggled in the build up to Russia 2018 and do not look good enough on paper to make it out of the group

Verdict: First Round exit

Morocco


Atlas Lions of Morroco (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Morocco are drawn in the same group as pre-tournament favourites Spain, European Champions Portugal and Asians Iran.

Morocco easily won their qualifying group and didn’t lose a single match. The Atlas Lions also didn’t concede any goals in the group. They're back at a World Cup for the first time since 1998 when they were knocked out in the first round.

They have a difficult group to navigate, as they face Spain, Portugal and Iran. Both Iberian teams are the heavy favourites to advance here.

The Atlas Lions have struggled offensively with three of their six matches in the last round of qualifying ending goalless. They will have to trust their top scorer in the qualifiers, Khalid Boutaïb, and Ajax star Hakim Ziyech to rise up to the occasion and bring in goals to support their defensive solidity.

Their lack of goals is likely to see them miss out in this group as their more illustrious opponents have far superior attacking options.

Verdict: First Round exit

Tunisia


Carthage Eagles of Tunisia (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Tunisia are appearing at their fifth World Cup and first since 2006. Although they didn’t concede any goals in the last round of qualifying, they're generally viewed as the weakest of the African teams to have qualified for Russia 2018.

They'll be in Group G with heavyweights Belgium and England and fellow underdogs Panama. Their hopes rely heavily on their offensive trident of midfielders Wahbi Khazri, Naïm Sliti with striker Youssef Msakni. damaging knee ligaments while playing in the Qatari league to rule him out of the World Cup.

A few weeks before the injury, Tunisian coach Nabil Maâloul had said that Tunisia playing without Msakni was like Argentina playing without Messi. Now this Tunisian nightmare has come true, and the country's chances to advance have diminished significantly. It looks very unlikely now that the Tunisians will advance.

Verdict: First Round exit

Egypt


Pharaohs of Egypt (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Pharaohs are back at the World Cup for the first time since 1990, thanks to a dramatic late penalty from star man Mohamed Salah in the qualifiers against Congo.

The Liverpool striker has been an influencial figure for the team, but looks set to miss the opening game as the Egyptians sweat over his fitness after injuring his shoulder in the UEFA Champions League final.

Egypt are in Group A which includes hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, all rivals that the northern Africans could potentially beat. The Absence of Salah though has now put a huge question mark around the Pharaohs.

The big match for Egypt will be against the hosts Russia who on paper will be in a battle with the Africans for a ticket to the next round.

Without the threat of a fit Salah, the Egyptians might find the going tough in Russia and I do not think they have enough experience at the World Cup to upstage the hosts.

Verdict: First Round exit

Senegal


Teranga Lions of Senegal (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

Senegal are one of the most talented African teams in this World Cup. Star players include Liverpool's Sadio Mané, Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly, Monaco's Keita Baldé, and Everton's Idrissa Gana Gueye. They are coached by Aliou Cissé, who was the captain of the national team during the historic 2002 run and is still a popular figure among fans and players.

This is Senegal's first World Cup since that Korea and Japan adventure, and their problem might be that they have not had much international competition experience. 

They will be in Group H, perhaps one of the most evenly-matched in the competition, where they'll face Japan, Poland and Colombia.

The Senegalese have the quality to make it out of this group and could even finish in top spot. The problem though is that they face a potential Round of 16 tie with England or Belgium from group G which could prove a bridge too far.

Verdict: Round of 16
Top African Team Bet: Senegal @ 3.25
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Eric Smith 14 June 2018

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