Soccer

Would Africa’s best thrive at the European Championship?

Some of the lower-ranked nations didn’t impress at the ongoing showpiece before their elimination, but would Africa’s finest have done better?

Before we get started, this is by and large a fantasy piece to lighten the mood, so it’s best to not take it too seriously!

In light of Senegal’s inclusion as guests in the upcoming Cosafa Cup, and with teams such as Japan, Qatar and Panama having all competed in the Copa America, Goal are asking the question: How would Africa’s top sides fare as guests in the European Championships?

The European Championship was expanded to 24 teams going into the 2016 competition and the changed format was retained for Euro 2020. The argument against the revamped set-up was the presence of sides believed to be of inferior quality to the so-called top and average teams.

There’s a sense that the countries that progressed to the last 16 — perhaps except for Robert Lewandowski’s Poland — are roughly the 16 nations that were likely to make a 16-nation tourney if the old format wasn’t eschewed.

The upshot of the alteration saw North Macedonia and Finland debut at the Euros, Scotland were featuring at the quadrennial showpiece after a 25-year wait, while Wales and Slovakia were making consecutive appearances having made their debuts at the 2016 finals.

Gareth Bale Wales vs Denmark Euro 2020

Only Wales progressed from the group stage of the aforementioned teams having defeated a below-par Turkey side before drawing against Switzerland and narrowly losing to Italy, and were comfortably dispatched by Denmark in a one-sided meeting on Saturday.

Despite Scotland generally impressing, the absence of match-winners resulted in an early exit from Group D where they faced off with rivals England, Croatia and The Czech Republic.

Finland picked up a huge victory in their maiden fixture against a shattered Denmark side but failed to hit the back of the net in fixtures against an average Russia and one of the pre-tournament favourites Belgium.

North Macedonia and Slovakia scored more than one goal, but suffered defeats in encounters vs The Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria, while the Slovaks suffered losses at the hands of Sweden (1-0) and Spain (5-0) after beating 10-man Poland 2-1.

Would any of Africa’s top nations have fared any better than these aforementioned sides that exited early?

In truth, the countries that immediately stick out are African champions Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco. Interestingly, all feature in the top 50 of the Fifa world ranking and Tunisia (26th in the world) and Ghana (49th) shouldn’t be left out either.

2019 AFCON Final Algeria

The sport’s governing body often receive criticism for its flawed assessment, and it may surprise many that only Finland (54) and North Macedonia (62) are outside the top 50 of the ranking. Poland, who lost all their games in the ongoing Euros, are 21st in the world…fascinatingly higher than every nation from Africa.

Indeed, European nations account for the highest percentage of sides in the top 50 and how the top-ranked countries from the second-largest continent would fare against them remains to be seen.

Will Algeria have made it out of Group B at Belgium and Denmark’s expense?

Will a Teranga Lions side led by Sadio Mane have thrived in a relatively weak Group C or will the Super Eagles have secured a win over one of England, Croatia or Czech?

In isolation, perhaps none of these teams will have finished in the top two but they probably would have backed themselves to end as one of the top-ranked third-placed sides. Despite ending on three points each, both Finland and Slovakia missed out on a last 16 place to Ukraine due to their inferior goal difference.

Super Eagles celebrate - Nigeria vs Benin

Having said that, a combined African XI definitely thrives at the Euros…on paper, at least.

With a line-up probably seeing Edouard Mendy between the sticks, Kalidou Koulibaly, Wesley Fofana and Edmond Tapsoba at centre-back, with Achraf Hakimi and Reinildo Mandava featuring at wing-back, the continent ought to have enough balance in defence while carrying a threat on the flanks.  

A midfield pairing will be tricky due to the plethora of available quality options: Wilfred Ndidi, Thomas Partey, Ismael Bennacer, Franck Kessie, Yves Bissouma and Boubakary Soumare, to name a few.

How about we go with Ndidi and Bennacer?

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

In attack, a front three of Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will trouble any defence and having Mohamed Salah replace Mahrez when the opponents’ defence is tiring will strike fear into any opposition.

Many will even have the Egypt superstar in their preferred XIs.

Enough with the fantasy, though, as neither scenario will ever be a reality.

Still, the prospect of Africa’s finest going toe-to-toe with some of Europe’s teams may excite some observers, and it’s tantalising to imagine how the continent’s top sides would fare as guests in the European Championships.

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