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World Cup – Africa’s big five have big dreams

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The pride of Africa are out to shock the world

Achraf Hakimi of Morocco attempts to get past Lyle Lakay of South Africa during the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying football match between Morocco and South Africa held at the Stade Prince Moulay Abdallah in Rabat, Morocco on 9 June 2022 ©Nour Akanja/BackpagePix

AFRICAN teams will be looking to dream big at the World Cup in Qatar.

The continent’s Big Five – Morocco, Ghana, Tunisia, Cameroon and champions Senegal – face huge odds as football’s super powers look to tighten their grip on the game’s biggest prize.

No African nation has ever gone past the quarter-final stage, with Cameroon (1990) Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all hoping to go one better than their past glories.

With a strong Morocco side and fellow north Africans Tunisia also repping Caf, let’s take a look at who has the best chance of going even deeper into the competition.

Morocco

Key players: Achraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri

Group F fixtures: Croatia (November 23), Belgium (27), Canada (December 1)

MOROCCO would probably have been wishing for an easier draw than opening games against 2018 finalists Croatia and Fifa’s second-ranked team in Belgium.

But they have a squad of players who compete at the top level in European football and so should have the belief that they can get out of the group for the first time since 1986, when they topped a group including Poland, England and Portugal.

Achraf Hakimi of Morocco. Picture: Imad Attalal, BackpagePix

With star wingbacks Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazrouai, Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri, maverick dribbler Soufiane Boufal and the return of Hakim Ziyech from international retirement, they will hope to emulate their heroics in Mexico.

Tunisia

Key players: Hannibal Mejri, Wahbi Khazri, Youssef Msakni

Group D fixtures: Denmark (November 22), Australia (26), France (30)

THE Carthage Eagles will look to make themselves as tough to beat as possible when they face Europeans Denmark and France.

Compact and hardworking without the ball, they will look to spring forward using the pace of Wahbi Khazri and pick out for captain Youssef Msakni at setpieces.

After Afcon earlier this year, they went on a seven-match run without conceding a goal, which included wins of Chile and Japan, before a 5-0 hammering by Brazil in September.

The plan will be to stay as solid and disciplined to keep themselves in games and hope to hurt opponents on the counter.

Senegal

Key players: Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly, Boulaye Dia

Group A fixtures: Netherlands (November 21), Qatar (25) and Ecuador (29)

With talisman Sadio Mane set to miss the “first games” of their campaign through injury, Senegal’s other key men will have to get the job done in the meantime.

Kalidou Koulibaly will have to marshal his defence well in front of Edouard Mendy, who has lost his place at Chelsea after some costly blunders.

Sadio Mane of Senegal. Picture: Alain Guy Suffo, BackpagePix

Senegal have hard grafters in midfield with Premier League pedigree, which allows their attack to be direct.

With Mane out, Ismaila Sarr has to recapture the form he showed last year for Watford and Boulaye Dia must replicate the work that impressed his former Villarreal boss Unai Emery last term.

Cameroon

Key players: Andre Frank Zambo-Anguissa, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Vincent Aboubakar

Group G fixtures: Switzerland (Nov. 24), Serbia (28), Brazil (Dec. 2)

THE Indomitable Lions have to roar out of the blocks in a challenging group.

Good for them then that midfielder Andre Frank Zambo-Anguissa is in the form of his life as he bosses Serie A games for leaders Napoli.

The former Fulham man will have to be at the top of his games against Casemiros, Granit Xhakas and Sergej Milenkovic-Savics in the group.

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting of Cameroon celebrates goal with teammates Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Vincent Aboubakar. Picture: Alain Guy Suffo, BackpagePix

Upfront, they have targetman Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to keep defences occupied and sharp-shooting captain Vincent Aboubakar to feed off him.

Having recently said that he can be as good as Mo Salah in the right setup, Aboubakar can put his money where his mouth is by firing his span out of the group.

Ghana

Key players: Thomas Partey, Kamaldeen Sulemana, Inaki Williams

Group H fixtures: Portugal (November 24), South Korea (28), Uruguay (December 2)

When Daniel Amartey gambled to get a cheap penalty to beat Bafana Bafana and pip them to top spot their qualifying group on goal difference, few would have bet on Ghana being a force at this World Cup.

Thomas Partey of Ghana. Picture: Tobi Adepoju

But after beating Nigeria in the play-offs and landing Brighton’s England youth rightback Tariq Lamptey and speedy forward Inaki Williams, once of Spain, the Black Stars, powered by midfield boss Thomas Partey, have the weapons to get out their “group of the death”.

African teams have a knack of landing a sucker punch in opening games and if they can do that against Portugal next Thursday, their grudge match against Luis Suarez and Uruguay in the final group game could be the kicker.

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