By Ed Dove*
All of Africa’s teams were eliminated from the World Cup at the first hurdle, but that simple statistic doesn’t tell the whole story of five very different campaigns.
Perhaps the continent’s sides didn’t enjoy the fortune they needed to make up for any gulf in quality during the opening rounds, while maybe a combination of testing first-round draws and injury problems left Africa’s quintet up against it before the tournament had even begun.
In this feature, KweséESPN’s Ed Dove outlines the key decisions that caused each of the five campaigns to fall short – to differing degrees – over the last few weeks.
More so than Africa’s other World Cup teams, Egypt’s ‘error’ has been developed and built up over time; specifically, Hector Cuper’s inability to either develop a Plan B for the Pharaohs or to let the team’s shackles off and allow them to express themselves.
Before the tournament, Egypt were criticised for being an overly negative side who were reliant on Mohamed Salah.
Following his injury, Plan B became Plan A, yet the lack of a viable alternative approach to the unfit Liverpool superstar became excruciatingly apparent as Egypt scored just once from open play during their three group games.
The EFA ultimately lost faith and patience in Cuper’s overly conservative approach after the tournament, and he was relieved of his duties.
KweséESPN’s Colin Udoh insisted in the aftermath of Nigeria’s World Cup elimination that the NFF must keep faith with coach Gernot Rohr, but the German coach’s handling of the Super Eagles’ opening fixture alone ought to raise questions about whether he’s the best option to get the most out of this talented squad.
During Nigeria’s pre-tournament friendlies, it was clear that the national side had two glaring weaknesses which needed to be addressed: an inability to convincingly defend set pieces, and a failure to effectively link up the midfield and the attack despite a wealth of options.
The Eagles duly conceded twice from set pieces, while Rohr never found a way to use Alex Iwobi and John Obi Mikel – together or apart – during the competition.
He cannot say he wasn’t warned.