Who are Africa's best bet to reach the World Cup Last 16?

Raheem Sterling battles with Joel Obi and William Troost-Ekong. Marc Atkins/Offside/Getty Images

On the eve of the World Cup, KweseESPN's Ed Dove assesses the African teams' chances of escaping their respective groups.

Africa's teams begin their World Cup campaigns with ambitions to become the first continental representatives in the semi final, yet escaping their respective groups would represent an admirable achievement for the continent's quintet.

Indeed, while at least two of the sides can be realistically confident in their chances of escaping past the first round, the draw leaves Africa up against it to produce their fourth-ever quarter finalists.

Of the five, Tunisia are the rank outsiders, and they'd surely need a (not so uncommon, perhaps) choke from England in order to progress to the Last 16.

With the Three Lions and then Belgium up in their first two fixtures, the Carthage Eagles are - along with Panama - perhaps the team most likely to be dumped out before their last match, with Group G appearing arguably the most clear-cut of the eight.

Tunisia will need to hope that they can stymie and stifle England early on and then let their traditional tournament nerves take hold during the second half of their opener in Volgograd.

It's not impossible, and while there's a buzz about England again under Gareth Southgate, their Euro 2016 defeat by Iceland still looms large.

However, Tunisia's prospects of pulling off an upset have been dented by injuries to Youssef Msakni and Yassine Taha Khenissi, even if there are signs that Nabil Maaloul has succeeded in finding an alternative offensive approach.

Morocco, like Tunisia, will need to dump out a European giant in order to progress after being pitted in an ominous pool alongside Spain and Portugal.

The Atlas Lions have the defensive resiliency - they didn't concede a single goal in qualifying - and the tactical nous (in the form of coach Herve Renard to trouble the world's best sides, but they'll be tested to their limits by their group-stage foe.

It's imperative Morocco beat Iran in their opener and then hope that they can either capitalise on Spain's internal fractions or that Portugal endure a slow start to the tournament to sneak into the Last 16 ahead of either.

Renard will relish the challenge, and has the tools to progress, but the wise money would still be on Morocco finishing third in Group B.


What to expect from Morocco

Despite having Spain and Portugal in their group, Ed Dove highlights some of the key reasons Morocco could surprise a few people at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Nigeria can feel much more optimistic about their chances of progression, even if their friendly performances have hardly inspired confidence.

Gernot Rohr will hope that deficiencies in goal or up front don't hurt the Super Eagles, while simultaneously wishing for his side to capitalise on Croatia's internal strife or Argentina's identity crisis in order to progress.

Their group has the potential to be one of the most open in the tournament, with every match potentially decisive on the road to the knockout stages.

Iceland, the surprise package at Euro 2016, cannot be underestimated either, and while Nigeria could blow their opponents away with their verve and youthful approach, they'll need to demonstrate a solution to the structural issues that afflicted them in some pre-tournament friendlies.

Progression for Tunisia and Morocco appears unlikely considering their draws, while Nigeria are still to prove that they can capitalise on the fragilities of others as they look to solve their own deficiencies.

By contrast, Senegal and Egypt appear much better placed to progress, with the duo arguably favourites to emerge in the top two from their group.

Both have benefited from favourable draws.

The North Africans have been pooled alongside the two lowest ranked teams in the tournament, hosts Russia (70th) and Saudi Arabia (67th), while the Uruguay side that they meet in their opener are a team in transition.

In Mohamed Salah, they have one of the world's most in-form players, and one coming off the back of a remarkable campaign in which he broke the record for goals scored in a 38-game Premier League season.

If Salah can recover fully from the iniquity done to him by Sergio Ramos in the Champions League final, then he ought to fire Egypt past their modest group-stage opponents.

Similarly, Hector Cuper's oft-maligned conservative approach should be enough to see off the group's two weaker sides, even if Uruguay have the quality to expose the ageing Pharaohs in the two sides' opener in Yekaterinburg on Friday.

Senegal, like Egypt, are a flawed side, with coach Aliou Cisse yet to truly demonstrate that he's the man to build a coherent offensive unit out of their myriad attacking talents.

However, they'll certainly hold their own in a group containing Colombia and Poland sides who have declined over the last 12 months and a Japan team who are arguably weaker than at any stage in the last 20 years.

Defensively, Senegal boast some of the tournament's most talented individuals, while their friendly victory over South Korea on Monday offered a glimpse of what the attacking unit can achieve with Sadio Mane back among them.

The Liverpool forward has the potential to be one of the tournament's breakout stars, and will relish the chance to escape Salah's shadow after a season in which he netted 20 across the Premier League and Champions League.

While Egyptian progress would likely see them come up against either Portugal or Spain in the next round, opponents who may be beyond even Salah, Senegal might be a little more optimistic that, should they face England, they have the attributes to outmuscle, outfight and outgun the Three Lions.

The West Africans already etched their own indelible mark on Africa's World Cup history in their sole appearance to date back in 2002.

16 years on, and they appear best placed to be the continent's last team standing once again.