32 nations have qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which starts today (1700 CAT) in Russia. All these teams are expected to compete against each other in the biggest soccer showpiece dubbed #Russia2018. With the clock ticking and only a few hours remaining to the first kick off encounter against the host, Russia and Saudi Arabia at 1700hrs, the world waits with animated euphoria and enthusiasm for the biggest soccer spectacle in the world.
Soccer pundits are wondering whether Germany will defend its title in the absence of their 2014 young sensation, Mario Gotze who has since been omitted by coach Joan Louw citing off form. Another moment to ponder is whether the world’s greatest players in Portugal’s ace, Ronaldo and Argentinian star Messi will finally win it for their respective teams. The African continent is pinning its hopes on Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt.
Whilst reaching the FIFA World Cup stage is an achievement on its own, soccer pundits are expected to pray and cheer hard in making sure that at least one of the Mother continent’s teams reach the semifinals of the competition, which starts today June 14 – July 15, 2018. #BotswanaUnplugged spoke with a few local sportscasters on which African teams they are vying for at the Summer World Cup.
Letlogile Mpuang- Botswana Gazette
I think after all his achievement at club level and individually, Mohamed Salah (25) will be the player to watch in the Egyptian squad. Senegal also hopes that Liverpool forward, Sadio Mane will carry through with his scoring prowess. Nigeria can’t be ignored too, Alex Iwobi has many hopes on him, and coming from a football family and related to Jay Jay Okocha suggests he has to step up. He has age on his side too. Algeria has Riyad Mahrez who has had an average season at Leicester City however, for his side we still have hope that he can turn things around. Another Tunisian player to watch out for is Anice Badri who plays is the Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1
**Letlogile Mpuang: Letlhogile Mpuang is a local sports journalist for the Botswana Gazette Newspaper. He has been working for the publication since 2015 from the Monday Times Newspaper. He is also currently a radio analyst for RB1 during local football games.
Martin Fanie -Yarona fm
Mo Salah has been vital and instrumental to his club Liverpool throughout the season which saw him win all the individual awards on offer this year including: African player of the year, PFA player of the year, Footballers Writers Association (FWA) footballer of the year amongst others. He also drove Liverpool to the champions’ league final against Real Madrid after 11 years. Victor Moses (Nigeria), brings in the experience and depth into the Super Eagles squad looking at his role at Chelsea since 2017. He played as a defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder and a striker which saw him score crucial goals for his club that won the league in 2017.
Sadio Mane proved himself beyond reasonable doubt especially after scoring for Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid and he has been a regular goal scorer at Liverpool and Senegal respectively. The boy has been consistent. Wahbi Khazri also adds depth in the midfield whether in the attack or defense, he will be the man who will be always visible and looking for the ball to create chances or score. He is very intelligent tactical and he knows how to read into the game well.
Achraf Hakimi has played alongside and against best players in the world and he knows what is required from him. This is the right time to prove himself in order for him to have a permanent slot at his club. He also has the national team experience from development and elite Moroccan national team.
**Martin is a multi award winning sport journalist who works for Yarona FM and Echo newspaper. He joined the industry in 2013.
Karabo Bosena – Sport presenter at Botswana Television
Mo Salah will obviously be the star player for the Pharaohs, despite his injury scare after the UCL final. Salah has had a phenomenal career with Liverpool, his ability to take on defenders will come in handy for Egypt. He is a team player, he is a hard worker so definitely he is the player to watch for Egypt. All eyes are set on Sadio Mane to lead Senegal to glory in Russia. We all know what Mane is capable of doing, his season at Liverpool was a good one. He scored goals that came in handy for the Reds. He is a hard worker, he can sneak in goals when least expected. So he is the man to carry Senegal on his shoulders.
In the Nigerian team, my player to watch will definitely be Victor Moses. I believe he has had a good season at Chelsea. His ability to overlap comes in handy when helping the team to attack but also one good thing is that he managed to come back well in time in helping to defend. The hat -trick hero against Guinea in the qualifiers will have to lead Tunisia for victory. He played a key role in Tunisia qualifying for the world cup. He is linked to Arsenal, Everton and spurs and surely this will be his time to impress those clubs and even make a big move of his career.
Hakim Ziyech (25) has 13 caps and 7 goals to his name. The former Netherlands U-21 international will be important in Moroccan midfield. He is a strong and talented player who can execute the role of playing deep well.
**Karabo Bosena is a television presenter at Botswana Television (BTV) where she does two shows as an anchor (Enole and Tshamekang).
Godfrey Mowaneng – Sunday Standard
Mohamed Salah – his exceptional performance this season caught the eyes of the football community; an influential talisman with his contribution widely witnessed being the EPL top leading goal scorer and leading his team to the European champions league final. He also contributed a lot in the world cup qualifiers assisting his side for reaching the world football extravaganza. Surely the most experienced player in the Nigerian squad is John obi Mikel – an inspiration to the team and as a leader with vast experience having played against the best in the world the midfielder will play a vital role in the heart of the pitch for the Super Eagles.
Unfortunately for Tunisia Youssef Msakni has been ruled out of the 2018 FIFA World Cup due to injury. The team is now forced to rely on Wabhi Kazri. The striker has been influential for Rennes this season in the Ligue 1 in France. Sadio Mane (Senegal) has proved to be amongst the best wingers in the world and likely to carry his Liverpool form to the world cup. His speed on the ball will be a thorn to defenders and his goal scoring ability weighs him amongst best players to watch. Hakim Ziyech (Morocco) is one to watch for the Moroccan side. The 25-year-old Ajax Amsterdam attacker is key in creating goal scoring opportunities and also a dead ball specialist just outside the box.
**Mowaneng is a seasoned sports scribe and soccer analyst currently with Sunday Standard.
Jennifer Letshiwiti – The Voice Newspaper
Obviously Sadio Mane will be the key man for the Senegalese. He has an eye for goal and will certainly inspire his mates. Probably the most experienced player in the Nigerian team is John Obi Mikel, although playing in a lesser competitive league, the practice matches to the World Cup had shown he still has class. Although many are looking at Salah, Ahmed Elmohamady shouldn’t be ignored. He is fully fit compared to the latter.
**Jennifer Letshwiti is a photojournalist with The Voice Newspaper for 4 years. A Degree holder in Digital and Film and Television Production she also doubles as a digital content and also does social media management for individuals and companies.