Preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup are reaching peak momentum in November with the final matches to decide the remaining national teams that will travel to Russia next year. The five spots allotted to the Confederation of African Football have been earned by the Lions of Teranga, the Super Eagles, the Pharaohs, the Eagles of Carthage, and the Lions of the Atlas; respectively, these majestic nicknames belong to the national teams of Senegal, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Final qualifying matches on the road to the World Cup are often very exciting, particularly when they are down to a narrow margin, and this was certainly the case at the stadium in Abidjan, where the talented Ivory Coast Elephants hosted Morocco in a match that required a straight, three-point victory. Despite the home pitch advantage and the pure football talent of the Elephants, the Moroccan Lions resorted to the traditional strategy of crosses and corner kicks to secure a World Cup berth with a 2-0 win.
Tunisia has been the sensation of the qualifying rounds as it was able to prevent the Democratic Republic of the Congo from going to the World Cup by a single point. In their final match against Libya, a tough national team with nothing to lose, the Eagles of Carthage managed to hold things down to a draw with no goals scored despite quite a few dangerous plays by both squads. The last time the Eagles qualified for the World Cup was in 2006 when they traveled to Germany.
The African representation at the 2018 World Cup in Russia is promising; many analysts believe that Egypt could be a contender to reach the finals while expectations are high for Nigeria, a country that produces many of the world’s top professional players. Tunisia will be an underdog to watch; this is a proud African nation that has triumphed over oppressive regimes while regaining its development spirit, and everyone knows that football is a positive path to development.
International football is not without heartbreak; this much was made clear on the road to Russia 2018. Some of the most exciting African footballers will miss the World Cup because their teams did not qualify; these names include Joel Matip of Cameroon, Jean Seri of the Ivory Coast, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon, a player who one day may be signed with professional clubs such as Real Madrid.
Fans of stellar teams such as Algeria and Ivory Coast are clearly disappointed that they will not get to see their fellow countrymen in Russia next year; however, this is a reminder that football is always filled with surprises. This may not be a consolatory fact, but it should be noted that the national teams of the Netherlands and the United States did not qualify, that Lionel Messi practically carried Argentina on his own, and that Italy, a four-time World Cup champion, is on the brink of missing out if the team does not prevail in a desperate playoff match against Sweden.