St. Petersburg, Russia — In African club football, North African teams have been dominant, particularly in the lucrative CAF Champions League. This year alone, 11 of the 16 teams that played in the second round of the competition are from North Africa. From the all-conquering Al-Ahly of Egypt, to CS-Sfaxien of Tunisia, USM-Alger and MC-El-Eulma of Algeria, as well as Raja Casablanca and Maghreb Tetouan of Morocco, North African clubs prowess continue to ring a bell in African football.
In the build up to the on-going FIFA World Cup in Russia, many African football fans had tipped at least two of the three North Africans representatives for glory. From the Pharaohs of Egypt, who made their appearance in the World Cup after about three decades, to the Atlas Lions of Morocco and Cartage Eagles of Tunisia, the expectations of football lovers across the continent were high.
But shortly after the kick of the World Cup on June 14, Morocco kissed the dust, while the Pharaohs of Egypt followed the next day. In their opening Group game, the Moroccans suffered a shocking 0-1 defeat from Iran before Portugal ended their campaign in Russia with another 1-0 loss.Perhaps, their loss to Portugal could have been avoided if the Moroccans had made good use of the several chances, all from set pieces. Three of the chances came in a five-minute early in the second half, but the Moroccans wasted all before Cristiano Ronaldo came to the party with the only goal that separated the two sides. It was the end of the road for Morocco. The Pharaohs of Egypt joined Morocco in the elimination party later same day.
Egypt went down 0-1 to Uruguay in their opening match despite holding their own till the last minute. The Pharaohs with the much-celebrated Liverpool striker, Mohamed Salah, waited for 28 years before returning to the World Cup party. But in Russia, they lasted only six days in the competition.
Egypt was without Salah in their 0-1 defeat from Uruguay on June 15. The Egyptian top striker, Salah, appeared for the second match against the host country, Russia. He scored from the penalty spot, but it was not enough to save the day. The Pharaohs were sent packing with a 3-1 defeat, while Russia booking their place in the second round.
On their part, the Eagles of Tunisia barely made up the number in Russia. After going down 1-2 to the Three Lions of England in their first match, where Harry Kane scored a stoppage-time winner in Volgograd, the North Africans were humiliated by Belgium, 2-5 defeat, with Romelu Lukaku scoring a brace and captain Eden Hazard also striking twice.Even the coach of Tunisia, Nabil Maaloul, could not hide his feelings after the scandalous defeat from Belgium: "We were a little bit ridiculous, you just have to look at the score.
His brace against Tunisia made Lukaku a joint tournament top scorer so far with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo on four goals.With the three North African teams eliminated, the aspiration of African football fans now lie on the two West African teams, the Super Eagles and Terenga Lions of Senegal in the World Cup. The Nigerians will face South American giants, Argentina, tomorrow here in St. Petersburg.