There are just two more days of World Cup first round matches and Senegal now stand alone as Africa’s last hope at the 2018 tournament in Russia.
There is also news from Egypt‚ Argentina‚ Croatia and the Russian police‚ who had a busy night in one of the host cities.
FLY THE FLAG
The hopes of the African continent now rest alone on the shoulders of Senegal as they prepare to face Colombia on Thursday‚ needing a point to make it into the next round of the World Cup.
If they fail to do so then it will be the first time since 1982 that Africa does not have a representative in the knockout stages‚ and would bring a moment of reflection for the continent and where our football is headed.
Egypt‚ Morocco‚ Nigeria and Tunisia are already out‚ despite good showing particularly from the Super Eagles and the Moroccans‚ and it would be desperately disappointing were Senegal to follow.
The furthest an African side has managed to get is the quarterfinals‚ a feat Senegal achieved in their one and only other World Cup appearance in Japan and South Korea in 2002.
CUPER PAYS THE PRICE?
Egypt coach Hector Cuper appears to have become the first African casualty of the World Cup as the country’s football association all but confirmed his departure.
“We held a meeting after returning from Russia and the entire board decided to say thank you to Cuper and his technical staff‚” read a statement‚ which never actually confirmed that his contract‚ which is set to expire‚ would not be renewed.
“We appreciate the work from the coach‚ from reaching the Africa Cup of Nations after three years of absence and taking Egypt to the World Cup after 28 years of absence.”
Egypt lost all three of their matches‚ losing to Uruguay (0-1)‚ hosts Russia (1-3) and Saudi Arabia (1-2).
Argentine superstar Lionel Messi admitted he was more relieved than anything else after the side snatched a late win over Nigeria to seal their berth into the World Cup Last 16.
Messi scored the first goal and also put in an energetic performance‚ exhausting himself as he chased back to tackle opponents on numerous occasions – not a sight you usually see when he is in a Barcelona shirt.
“We already knew we were going to win‚ we were confident that God would help us‚ that all would turn out well. But we did not expect the complication of the draw‚ of suffering so much. But what’s important is that we went through‚” Messi told Argentine media.
“Without a doubt‚ we knew that an opportunity had fallen from the sky after the two games we had not been able to win and we knew we could not let this one escape.
“I’m good. I’m very happy. It would have been very painful to have been eliminated in the first round.”
One of the surprise packages of the World Cup so far has been Croatia‚ who were regarded as a good side coming into the finals‚ but have shown themselves to be in top form with some excellent performances.
Croatia topped their pool ahead of Argentina‚ Nigeria and Iceland‚ winning all three games and also the hearts of many fans for their enterprising attacking play.
Coach Zlatko Dalic says there is a belief within the squad that they can beat anybody.
“We have to trust in our quality‚ we respect all our opponents but we don’t concede that anyone is better than us‚” Dalic said after Tuesday’s win over Iceland.
Croatia now face Denmark in the Last 16‚ a game they will believe they can win.
“I don’t think our tournament will end in the last 16 but for now we can only focus on Denmark‚” Dalic said. “We can only think about what awaits us‚ but the most important things are still to come.”
Russian police had their hands full in the early hours of Wednesday morning after receiving multiple bomb threats at 16 venues across World Cup host city Rostov-on-Don.
Fortunately they turned up nothing in the way of explosives‚ but it serves as a reminder that a big global event like the World Cup can be a target for extremists.
“On June 26‚ police received a series of phone calls about explosives planted at locations in Rostov-on-Don‚” local police said in a statement.
“Police forces made all the necessary checks and no dangerous objects were found.
“Currently‚ all the venues are operating normally.”
The city is just a short distance from Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine‚ where rebels backed by Moscow have been fighting Ukrainian troops since 2014.
Nick Said – TimesLIVE