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African teams will break new ground at the World Cup this year as all five qualifiers from the continent head to Qatar with home-grown coaches.
Four of those men are taking charge at the finals for the first time, with Senegal’s Aliou Cisse on board in Russia four years ago.
All five African teams were knocked out at the group stage in 2018, so the main task will be to clear the opening hurdle before they can even think of making history in Qatar by going past the last eight.
Here, BBC Sport Africa looks at the main issues facing the quintet as the first World Cup in mid-season – and the first to rise in the Middle East – is about to start.
Can any team make it to the quarterfinals?
Africa’s qualifiers have a point to prove as, for the first time since 1982, no team from the continent reached the knockout stages in 2018 – when returning Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia represented Africa together with Egypt and Nigeria.
Cameroon and Ghana return to the party this year after woeful 2014 World Cups with a home game and a very public bonus respectively.
Having won the first Africa Cup of Nations in February, of Senegal High hopes have been dramatically checked by the late injury absence of Ballon d’Or runner-up Sadio Mane, whose penalty kicks claimed both the continental crown and World Cup qualification.
Despite having a coach who took over two months ago, Morocco could make life tougher in Group F than Belgium, with their famous generation aging, 2018 runners-up Croatia and Canada could think.
Cameroon played with pace and power at times when hosting this year’s Cup of Nations, but FA president-turned-striker Samuel Eto’o’s prediction that the Indomitable Lions, led by Rigobert Song and disappointing in the recent friendlies, will beat Morocco in the final stretch of the limit.
Just three African teams have reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup – from 49 visits – with none coming closer to progressing Ghana, whose last-minute extra-time penalty against Uruguay in 2010 will always be remembered as the two teams meet again in Group H.
The target still remains a first semi-final, but Mane’s injury may realistically have paid off given his importance to the Teranga Lions. Africa’s top team since November 2018.
How will Senegal coach Cisse replace Mane?
Senegal lost both their talisman and their main source of goals when Mane, his country’s all-time leading scorer with 34 strikes, was eliminated from the tournament.
Not since George Weah won in 1995 has an African footballer finished in the top two of the Ballon d’Or, which shows how much the Bayern Munich star will be missed.
Watford striker Ismaila Sarr and Alanyaspor striker Famara Diedhiou, with 10 international goals each, are the next top scorers in the Teranga Lions squad, while the onus may also fall on Salernitana’s Boulaye Dia to lead the line.
Cisse was part of Senegal’s golden generation that reached the last eight in Japan and South Korea in 2002 and, having taken over seven years ago, will draw on all his experience to come up with a new game plan in short order period of time.
The West Africans face the Netherlands in their Group A opener on Monday, with games against the hosts and Ecuador to follow.
Who will be the African star in place of Mane?
With Mohamed Salah and Riyad Mahrez also absent after Egypt and Algeria failed to qualify, there is an opportunity for others to take the spotlight.
Ghanaian midfielder Mohamed Qudous will stop if he continues his excellent form in the Champions League with Ajax, and Cameroon boast talented strikers such as Eric Maxim Tsoupo-Moting, Karl Toko Ekabi and Vincent Aboubakar, who they won eight in seven games in the Nations Cup.
While the Tunisians hope that midfielder Aissa Laidouni can continue to impress, Hakim Ziyech will be looking to deliver after the long saga of his exclusion from the Morocco squad, with his goal from inside his own half in a recent friendly proving a stunning comeback.
A row with former manager Vahid Halilhodzic saw the Chelsea winger leave last year and be left out of the Nations Cup squad, with the 29-year-old – who retired from international football in February – back in the fold when the Bosnian was sent off three months ago.
Can conditions benefit the African quintet?
This World Cup was moved from its traditional time slot in June and July to avoid Qatar’s mid-year heat, when average afternoon temperatures are around 40 degrees Celsius and the mercury can even drop to 50 degrees.
The climate can prove too much for European sides, with November and December typically seeing temperatures of 27-30 degrees and humidity making it feel more like 30 to 35 degrees, although locals talk of unusually hot weather in Qatar currently.
However, temperatures drop in the evenings and the stadiums built for the tournament have been designed to maximize shade, while air-conditioning is also expected to reduce in-field temperatures to a more manageable 21 degrees.
African teams are used to a range of conditions from qualifiers and tournaments held across the world’s second largest continent, including searing heat, so could that experience be to their advantage in Qatar?
Will the locals back the North African pair?
Qatar hosted the Arab Cup in December last year to serve as a test event for the World Cup, with Tunisia losing to Algeria in the final.
The Carthaginian Eagles benefited from their large fan base in Qatar during their trip and are expected to have a home atmosphere when they return for Group D clashes with Denmark, Australia and defending champions France.
The North Africans need all the help they can get as they aim reached the knockout stage for the first time on the sixth attempt.
“I think playing in Qatar will help us, the African countries and especially the Arab countries,” Tunisia captain Ouabi Hazri told BBC Sport Africa.
“We will be playing in a familiar continent, there is a large Tunisian diaspora in Qatar. They showed that at the Arab Cup where the pitches were full of Tunisian red and if he can help us excel and do more he will be exciting.”
The same applies to Morocco, where the local culture, such as the way of life and the call to prayer, will be different but familiar.
Is it time for an African coach to shine?
For the first time since Africa played more than one team in the finals, which was 40 years ago in Spain, all of its representatives at the World Cup are led by local coaches.
By far the most experienced is Cisse from Senegal, who took over in 2015 after the other four were appointed only this year.
Three came in straight after respective Cup of Nations failures, with former Tunisia assistant Jalel Kadri promoted to the top job, Borussia Dortmund talent coach Otto Addo handed the Ghana role and Song entrusted with Cameroon from former teammate of Eto’o.
Ziyech’s long saga ended with Walid Regragui replacing Halihodzic as Morocco boss in August and like the rest, he is vying to become the first African coach to lead an African team to at least the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
After games against Portugal and South Korea, Black Stars coach Addo has the added weight of a rematch dramatic 2010 quarter-final when they face Uruguay on December 2.
After the infamous extra-time goal handball at Johannesburg’s Soccer City 12 years ago, former Liverpool and Barcelona striker Luis Suarez will be a man to watch when the two sides meet again.
The incident is one of the most controversial in World Cup history, even if Suarez’s gleeful celebrations are for many a greater crime than his actual ‘salvation’.
Now 35, if he takes to the field against the West Africans, then every tackle on him should be eye-watering in Africa’s standout group game.
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