Whatever Premier League team you support, your side will probably have at least one representative at this summer’s World Cup finals in Russia. Such is the international nature of the Premier League, that at any one time, there can be 60 or more nations represented amongst the squads of the 20 teams. While other major European leagues are not far behind, the English top flight remains the most cosmopolitan of the lot.
The African contingent
The African continent is well represented in the English league and some of those players will be involved come June.
There will be five African nations taking part in FIFA’s showpiece event this summer with Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, and Tunisia all having earned their places in Russia via the qualification system.
But which of the African teams will go the furthest in the competition? And what Premier League players should we look out for amongst their ranks?
History of African nations at the World Cup
Up until 1970, only one African team had ever taken part in a World Cup, and that team (Egypt) had only ever made one appearance (1934). Since then, another 12 African nations have qualified for the finals with Cameroon being the most successful having appeared seven times, reaching the quarter-finals once, in 1990. Since 1998, there have been at least five African teams taking part at each tournament with 2010 having the most with six. In the last tournament in Brazil, two teams from the continent (Nigeria and Algeria) reached the round of 16 for the first ever time but neither progressed to the quarter-finals. Only Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon have ever reached the last eight.
Nigeria will be appearing in their sixth World Cup finals and their third in a row after completing an undefeated qualifying campaign. Their 1-0 victory over Zambia courtesy of an Alex Iwobi goal sent them through with a game to spare. However, despite their pedigree in the competition, they are currently second favourites in the World Cup betting behind Senegal to become Africa’s top performers at this summer’s tournament.
Premier League fans should keep an eye out for Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City) and Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City) who are all regulars for the national team. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, of soon-to-be Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers, is no longer first choice for his club and is likely to miss out this summer.
Senegal’s only previous World Cup final’s appearance came in Japan and South Korea back in 2002. On that occasion, that went all the way to the quarter-finals where they were beaten by Turkey. The Teranga Lions qualified for Russia thanks to a 2-0 win over South Africa. They will be coached by Aliou Cisse who captained the 2002 squad.
The team boasts many Premier League players among their ranks including Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Badou N’Diaye (Stoke City), Mohamed Diame (Newcastle), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Omar Niasse (Everton),Pape Souare (Crystal Palace), Cheik Koyuyate (West Ham United) and Mame Diouf (Stoke City), who have all featured for Cisse’s men in recent times.
In addition, midfielder Alfred N’Diaye of recently promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers should also make the squad.
Morocco’s inclusion came at the expense of Ivory Coast, who will be missing from the tournament for the first time since 2002 following their 2-0 defeat to the Atlas Lions. The Moroccans have not featured at the World Cup since 1998, while their best result came in 1986 when they made the second round. This will be their fifth appearance at FIFA’s elite soccer competition.
Defender Romain Saiss, who can also play in midfield, is a regular for the national team and was part of the Wolverhampton Wanderers side that recently secured promotion the Premier League. Compatriot Sofiane Boufal of Southampton will be hoping to join him on the plane to Russia.
Nabil Maâloul’s team won four and drew two of their six matches in the group stage of qualifying to book their ticket to Russia. This was the coach’s third attempt to reach the finals having fallen short in 2010 and 2014. It will be the team’s fifth appearance at the tournament following their 1978, 1998, 2002 and 2006 campaigns. Their only ever win at the finals came way back in 1978 when they defeated Mexico in Argentina. That victory was the first by any African nation at the event.
Tunisia’s only possible Premier League representative will be defender Yohan Benalouane of Leicester City. The former Saint-Étienne, Parma and Atalanta defender has been at the King Power Stadium since 2015, although he has only made a handful of appearances for the first team.
Despite losing to Uganda in the group stage of qualification, Egypt still secured their place in Russia with a game to spare with a 2-1 win over Congo, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scoring both the goals. They will be relying on the Premier League star to inspire them as they take part in their first World Cup since 1990. Back in 1934, Egypt became the first African side to feature at the World Cup finals but this will be only their third participation.
As well as Mo Salah, other Premier League players in contention for a place in the World Cup squad include Ali Gabr and Ahmed Hegazi, both of West Bromwich Albion, Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal and Stoke City’s Ramadan Sobhi. They could be joined by Ahmed El Mohamady of Championship promotion contenders Aston Villa.
Who will go the furthest?
There will be plenty of Premier League players on display but it is likely to be a tale of two Liverpool men with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah hoping to drive their respective teams to new heights this summer. But how far can they go?
Senegal have the strongest squad overall and a top class goalscorer in Sadio Mane, while in Mo Salah, Egypt boast one of the best players in the world right now.
However, while Salah may be expected to carry his teammates to a whole new level, Mane will be backed up by some top talent that could see them claim the mantle of top African team.
Also in the running are Nigeria. The Super Eagles certainly have good World Cup pedigree having qualified for six editions of the tournament. What’s more, they also have good spread of players competing across the top European leagues. The way the way the groups have been drawn, we could see three African teams in the knockout stages for the first ever time.