This international break represented an opportunity for Africa’s FIFA World Cup-bound quintet to finalise their preparations for the tournament in Qatar and lay down a blueprint for progression to the knockout stages.

But Africa’s five qualifiers endured a gruelling week, winning four of their 10 combined matches — only one against an opponent ranked inside FIFA’s top 80 — and each was left with clear issues that require attention before the global showpiece.

Indeed, for Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon, the optimism that greeted their group-stage draw earlier in the year has been replaced by hard-nosed realism, and the prospect of another miserable performance for Africa’s sides at the tournament cannot be ignored.

Despite some glorious efforts by African teams in the past, the continent’s recent record at the tournament has been poor.

Only at Brazil 2014 did more than one side feature in knockout stages, and Russia 2018 was the continent’s worst combined performance yet — as none of the five qualifiers progressed out of the groups.

African teams have won only 10 of their past 47 matches combined at the tournament proper, and the spectre of another poor showing — even a repeat of 2018’s first-round eliminations — looms large.

We present a status report for each of Africa’s five Qatar-bound teams, including the key areas they need to improve.


Top of the class after the international break, Morocco were one of only two teams to have gone unbeaten, and the only side of the five to have improved on their previous international performances this year.

Replacing Vahid Halilhodzic with Walid Regragui — untested at this level but accomplished in his homeland — remains a gamble, but the early evidence suggests the new man has overseen a major boost in morale, and the 2-0 victory over Chile in Barcelona was the outstanding performance by any African qualifier this week.

There’s no shortage of top-end talent in this squad — this has never been in doubt — but Halilhodzic’s old-school approach failed to get the best out of Morocco’s creatives, with Amine Harit ostracised and Hakim Ziyech opting to retire from international football in February.

Ziyech’s return was everything an impatient Morocco will have been seeking, as he struck up a sound interplay with Sofiane Boufal and the duo created a plethora of goalscoring chances.

The returning Noussair Mazraoui slipped in at left-back, complementing Achraf Hakimi on the other flank and solving another problem that Vahid had created, and Morocco look the most dangerous and cohesive of Africa’s teams — – as they did before Russia 2018.

However, there’s still room for improvement.

Striker Youssef En-Nesyri still looks a shadow of his former self, bringing his barren run in front of goal in LaLiga to the international game, and improvement is needed if he’s to lead the line in Qatar.

Similarly, 32-year-old Romain Saiss’s creaking performance — he was caught out of position on several occasions — will generate some consternation considering fellow centre-back Nayef Aguerd is already a doubt for the tournament.

Improve both ends of the team, and Morocco can realistically hope to sneak out of a balanced Group F.


Senegal were the other African team to go unbeaten this window, following up a routine victory against Bolivia with a respectful 1-1 draw with Iran.

It was hardly an international break to set the pulses racing, but it could have been much worse considering Edouard Mendy’s injury-enforced absence and the loss of several other key players from the Africa Cup of Nations-winning squad due to injury, lack of game time or being without a club.

Head coach Aliou Cisse complained at the conclusion of the window about his side’s inability to put away chances, and, indeed, this is a key area that needs to be improved considering Senegal’s workmanlike midfield can’t be relied upon to create an excess of chances against tougher teams at the World Cup.

“It’s efficiency we need to work on more,” Cisse said after the draw with Iran. “We see the ratio of chances we created, and we can say that we should have scored a second goal. This is a crux of our work, and when you have chances in football, you need to bury them.”

Sadio Mane scored a penalty against Bolivia, ending his six-game run without a goal, but the likes of Ismaila Sarr cannot afford to be similarly profligate against more ominous foes.

Senegal have lost just one full international match in the past two years — the World Cup qualifying playoff first leg against Egypt — and they remain well placed to advance from Group A.


This has been a topsy-turvy year for Ghana, and the rollercoaster shows no sign of settling as we approach the World Cup.

A disastrous Africa Cup of Nations campaign preceded the controlled, composed playoff victory over Nigeria, but the Black Stars have struggled to kick-on despite the addition of several dual-nationality players who have boosted the quality of the starting XI.

Thomas Partey’s withdrawal from the team minutes before the kick-off against Brazil was a reminder of his fragility, and his absence doubtless influenced the West African’s disastrous first half in which they were 3-0 down inside 40 minutes.

His return to London meant that a valuable opportunity to configure this new-look team around Partey has been lost, although it could prove to be useful exercise if the Arsenal man’s injury concerns flare up ahead of the World Cup.

Ghana improved in the second half against Brazil, with Mohammed Salisu bolstering the defence, and Inaki Williams and Tariq Lamptey each making their debut, before going on to beat lowly Nicaragua.

Otto Addo acknowledged after the Brazil game that he’d made mistakes in the way he’d set the team up, perhaps hinting that he would adopt a back three for the World Cup, and it remains to be seen whether Ghana have enough time to integrate their new faces.

The one key positive from the Nicaragua game was the burgeoning relationship between in-form Mohammed Kudus and Williams, but can they do it against more demanding opposition?

After this week, Ghana appear to be long shots to squeeze their way past Portugal, Uruguay and South Korea in Qatar.


This was a difficult international break for Tunisia, for whom any positives that could be taken from the narrow victory over Comoros were overshadowed by their rout at the hands of Brazil.

The vibrancy of the Selecao’s performance and the appalling racist abuse aimed at Richarlison couldn’t entirely detract from a woeful Tunisia display as the North Africans conceded four goals in 40 minutes and ultimately lost 5-1.

It’s an unwanted scoreline on the eve of a major tournament.

Tunisia, like Ghana, will be grateful that Brazil eased off after the break, although a 42nd-minute red card for Dylan Bronn certainly left the second half feeling like a training match that was little use to either side.

At least seven of the starters against the South Americans would have been expected to start their World Cup opener, although that XI displayed worryingly little of the ‘grinta’ that has traditionally given Tunisia hope they can trouble stronger sides.

Ali Maaloul, Bilel Ifa and Bechir Ben Said will likely come back into the defence for the World Cup opener against Denmark, while Wahbi Khazri, Naim Sliti and Taha Khenissi should boost the attack, but there’s a sense that man-for-man Tunisia are short of the talent required to escape the group.

They certainly need to maintain composure and concentration better against France than they managed against Brazil on Tuesday.


Cameroon, like Ghana, have struggled to build on their triumphant World Cup playoff success, and they are still to convince that they can be more than the sum of their parts.

This was a particularly testing week for the Indomitable Lions, who surely would have been relieved to turn the attention back to events on the pitch following FECAFOOT’s controversial break from Le Coq Sportif that has dominated Cameroon’s backpages since the start of July.

However, after their latest two fixtures — both defeats — they may now be hoping for some juicy off-field controversy to detract from this side’s limitations!

FA President Samuel Eto’o may have declared after the defeat by World No. 77 Uzbekistan that Cameroon were still planning to reach the World Cup final, but there was little evidence to suggest they can take points from Switzerland, Serbia or Brazil.

Nicolas Nkoulou’s international return was riddled with errors, fullbacks Nouhou Tolo and Collins Fai struggled to impose themselves, Bryan Mbeumo appeared short of self-belief, and Vincent Aboubakar was effectively neutralised.

Olivier Ntcham offered some encouragement on debut, and Mbeumo improved in the defeat by South Korea, although coach Rigobert Song will be desperate to welcome Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa back into the midfield.

The likes of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Karl Toko Ekambi — both absent this window — will also add depth, experience and a goal threat, but Eto’o’s aim for Cameroon to remain in the tournament until Dec. 18 is laughable.

Credit: ESPN