30 Nights In Qatar
Reflections on the impending Qatari World Cup
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The World Cup kicks off today, a whirlwind of games that opens with Qatar - Ecuador, and will close in about a month with a new world champion crowned. As the crowning spectacle of World Football, it always usually invites an entire industry of takes, speculation, and intrigue. Even more than the Olympics, it is the world’s premier sporting festival since it involves the world’s most popular sport. But there’s something also romantic about it that goes beyond football.
Qatar has constructed some truly epic beautiful stadiums
Because the World Cup only happens once every four years it in part becomes a ritual that corresponds to our very lives. The average person will be lucky to live through twenty world cups. Of the ones you really remember and can follow in detail, hopefully 16 to 17.
This is going to be personally for myself my fifth world cup and the memories keep flooding back. Arguing in Middle School with my friends about the teams at Germany 2006, the swell of pride seeing Adebayor lead Togo out into its first and so far only World Cup ever. In 2010 stressing over college applications as Africa Rising hit its peak with the South African World Cup. The Vuvuzelas! Being heartbroken and enraged at Ghana’s defeat to Suarez’s Hand of God.
Being kind of tuned out for Brazil 2014, watching it in a packed dorm room with the bros as we saw Brazil being annihilated by Germany, the massacre at the Maracana. Being in a beer garden in a park in NYC in 2018 as the glorious summer sun reflected over us to visions of Mbappe weaving through Argentinian players. The World Cup is personal styles of the past, past girlfriends, the people you were watching the games with, the delicious emotions you felt as you take it all in, its life at its most vivid present. Its quite a serious matter.
This World Cup has been very weird because in its run up it has offered debates and heated discussions over Qatar. It has become a geopolitical shambles as everyone offers hot takes on why this isn’t a moral world cup, or why that’s all bullshit. Western media smugness, accusations of racism from Qatar towards its attackers. Questions of migration and labour politics, and the whole fuss on how many construction workers have actually died. Debates about LGBTQ+ culture and alcohol. It is a true shame as I doubt America and Canada will face as deep a moral interrogation as Qatar has faced, a sign of the supremacy the West still enjoys in terms of sheer media power. I have offered my own interpretations on my twitter account,
This piece isn’t about that though, it doesn’t matter what I say as everyone has already made their mind up by this point anyway. There are five African teams playing in this World Cup, the last time it will ever have 32 teams. Come 2026, Africa may well have nine teams participating in a 48 team World Cup. Below I offer summarized takes on Africa’s representatives and how they will likely distinguish themselves. A hearty good luck to the valiant teams representing a football mad continent.
Aliou Cisse, the celebrated manager of Senegal since 2015
Senegal is in Group A so any analysis has to include them rightly first. It also helps that they’re likely, even with Sadio Mane’s absence, Africa’s best team at this World Cup. Coached by Veteran Aliou Cisse, who was a part of that iconic 2002 Senegalese World Cup team that shocked France in the initial match and drove to the quarterfinals, Senegal is a team to fear. Senegal has gone from strength to strength the past few years. It lost the 2019 AFCON Final to Algeria in a heartbreaker, but come this year finally won its first AFCON title over Egypt, before proceeding to defeat Egypt in a two game series to clinch its qualification to Qatar as one of Africa’s five representatives. The expectations in Dakar are massive as a result, especially after Senegal narrowly failed to make the Round of 16 in 2018.
This is a very experienced squad, with its entire starting 11 playing in top European leagues. Sadio Mane was technically the leading outlet for the team, a gifted attacker who was often the focal point for the team’s goals and forward pressing. But even with his absence, Senegal has Edouard Mendy, Chelsea’s first string goalkeeper who ensures a strong presence between the sticks. In defense Koulibaly stands out as the headliner, and Senegal is a tough team to score against as a result.
Senegal’s first game will be against the Netherlands tomorrow and that will prove to be a tactical masterclass between Cisse and the Dutch manager Van Gaal. If Senegal wins or gets a draw in that game, its prospects for topping the group will be quite high as even without Mane it should have enough resources to deal with Qatar and Ecuador.
Tunisia’s squad is not one of the more hyped ones here but they could potentially play a surprise in a group that after France is pretty wide open between Tunisia, Denmark, and Australia. Tunisia like a growing amount of African states is now coached by a native Tunisian in Jalel Kadri, a journeyman manager with a penchant for securing promotions to the first division for Tunisian club teams.
A lot of the Tunisian team unlike the other African teams in the tournament mostly play either at home or in Middle Eastern leagues, a reflection of the typical talent pathways Tunisian footballing talent takes. The salaries in the Gulf can be quite handsome so for young gifted Tunisian footballers they would rather live there and just enjoy the pace of those leagues rather than challenge themselves necessarily in Europe.
Tunisia has a strong midfield that has the grit to be comfortable in this group. Ellyes Skhiri, who plays in the German Bundesliga, will be a deep midfielder playing quarterback for the team. He’ll be joined by a rotating cast of other strong midfielders for certain match specific strategies. Tunisia hasn’t had strong attacking talent for awhile so while the team may be strongly solid and harder to break down, the question is where exactly the goals will come from.
Tunisia is a smaller country with only 12 million people, but yet this will be their Sixth World Cup in total, and the team is a perennial Quarterfinalist in AFCON tournaments. Despite the small population Tunisia manages to be an African footballing force with its strong local league, its devotion to the game, and their ability to be tough on the field.
Hakim Ziyech is expected to be Morocco’s attacking talisman.
Morocco is a bright young side that will be led by their attacking talisman in Hakim Ziyech. This is a diaspora heavy side filled with Moroccan talent that grew up in the Netherlands among other places. Just like Senegal and Tunisia it will be led by a citizen in Walid Regragui. Just like Tunisia, despite Morocco’s small size it is a perennial contender in African football, but one with even better talent infrastructure to train youth talent as well as to spot diaspora talent that’s open towards representing the homeland.
Besides Ziyech, there is a lot of hype in the team for young 22 year old midfielder Azzedine Ounahi. He has impressed this year so far for Angers in France’s Ligue 1 and inspires comparisons to Luka Modric, who he will be facing off in this group. Morocco’s core has a bout of gifted attacking midfielders and dribblers, but the big question for them is just where the goals come from as they lack a dominant striker. Ziyech has a world of pressure on him to not only create but also finish more than he does for his club Chelsea.
Morocco is in one of the toughest groups in the World Cup, a group with Croatia, Belgium, and Canada is arguably very tough. Croatia are 2018 World Cup finalists, Belgium has a overhyped golden generation that still has the quality to make it to the knockout rounds, and Canada has a bevy of young gifted talent and has all the motivation to play freely in anticipation of 2026. If Morocco can make it out, then this team should not be understated to perhaps make a cinderella run.
Samuel Eto’o is now enjoying life as an African Football Mandarin.
This is the first World Cup where all the African managers are citizens of their respective countries, and Cameroon continues that trend with Rigobert Song, a former English Premier League Defender being put at the helm of the team. Of course the spiritual Godfather of this team is really African football legend Samuel Eto’o, who is the President of the Cameroonian FA, exercises strong influence over team selection, and who with his recent predictions has raised massive eyebrows.
Cameroon is a team that is gifted at the goalkeeping and the attacking part of the field. Andre Onana who plays for Inter Milan has arguably been the best African goalkeeper over the past decade. Up in the attacking end of the pitch you have Vincent Aboubakar who scored eight goals at this year’s AFCON. He’ll be paired up with Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting who has had an impressive reign of goals for Bayern Munich this season.
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