Senegal’s coach, Aliou Cisse, who captained his side in 2002 to a stunning quarter-final finish, has said he is optimistic of Africa’s chances at winning the ultimate prize, despite the dismal start to this year’s tournament in Russia.
Cisse who is the only Black coach at the World Cup in Russia, led his side to a 2-1 victory over Poland in Group H, on Tuesday. Senegal thus became the only African side to win its opening fixture.
“I’m certain that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said.
Cisse however agrees that after five defeats in the six games featuring African teams, the hunt for glory could take some time.
“It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We face realities that are not there in other continents,” he said, referring to infrastructure, budget and organisational problems.
Gloom for African teams in Russia
Seven time African champions Egypt have lost two consecutive games, 0-1 to Uruguay, and 1-3 to Russia, affected by the limited role of star player Mohamed Salah, who was injured in May during the Champions League final.
Morocco lost their opening game to Iran, after conceding a stoppage time own goal while fancied Nigeria were beaten 2-0 by Croatia. Tunisia also lost their opening tie to England, falling to a stoppage time Harry Kane winner.
“It’s a bit too early to say why the African sides are not doing well,” Cisse said after his side’s win, in which they took advantage of two errors to take all three points.
While both Egypt and Morocco could be effectively eliminated inside the first week, Cisse believes not all hope is lost.
“But Africa is full of quality and we’re on the way. We fully trust our football, we have no hang-ups,” Cisse added.
Africa’s fading glory
No African country has ever got as far as the World Cup semi-finals and only three times has the continent had a side progress to the last eight.
“There’s definitely been a decline,” said former Nigeria international Peter Odemwingie, who played at the last two World Cups and is now working as a BBC pundit in Russia.
“Nigeria had one of the best African squads ever at the 1994 World Cup. We were knocking on the door. We won the 1996 Olympics by beating Brazil and Argentina with all their stars. That period was like, ‘yes, it’s coming’.”
Yet despite those previously positive signs, the fabled prediction by Brazilian World Cup legend Pele that Africa would have a world champion by the turn of the century is now 18 years overdue.
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