Russia 2018: African teams and set piece demons

African teams at the 2018 FIFA World Cup have lost key games not because of lack of talent but as a result of failing to deal with the dreaded set pieces.

Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia have all recorded losses in their opening games. This calls for concern.

The most anticipated team news of the opening round of World Cup fixtures saw Mohamed Salah only named on Egypt bench three weeks after damaging his shoulder for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, and he stayed there throughout as manager Hector Cuper chose not to risk him. Egypt felt hard done by a late Uruguay heartbreaking winner.

Jose Gimenez climbed highest from a corner which followed a scramble, making the ball his and planting a firm header into the corner to send Uruguay’s fans and players in wild jubilation courtesy of their first opening-match win at a World Cup since 1970.

Morocco were on the brink of playing a draw with Iran in their Group B match. Sofyan Amrabat allowed Iran to load the box and pinch a famous victory, at the expense of the unfortunate Atlas Lions.

The late twist ended Morocco’s 18-match unbeaten run and spells trouble for their World Cup campaign with two European heavyweights (Spain and Portugal) still to come.

For Nigeria in their Group D match against Croatia at the Kaliningrad Stadium, the Super Eagles struggled with dealing with dead balls.

Croatia somehow took a fortunate lead when Mario Mandzukic found himself on the end of a corner, leaving his resulting header to cannon into Oghenekaro Etebo and past Francis Uzoho in the 32nd minute.

The market closed in the 69th minute when centre-back William Troost-Ekong conceded a penalty having unnecessarily grappled Mandzukic inside the box.

The foul, committed right under the nose of referee Ricci Sandro, gave Modric the chance to double the Croatians’ lead from the spot.

The Real Madrid midfielder made no mistake as he sent Uzoho the wrong way to make it 2-0 and confirm all three points from a rather forgettable contest in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

The Super Eagles paid the price of their failure to protect their territory from deadly crosses. This was evident in friendly games against England and the Czech Republic.

More crosses will be whipped in by Iceland and Argentina, especially the former who have lanky players at their disposal.

On Monday night, another African representative Tunisia got punished by an injury-time strike by Harry Kane who handed England a 2-1 win at Volgograd.

The Three Lions stole all three points at the death when Kane nodded an Harry Maguire flick into the back of the net from close range.

In past World Cup tournaments, African sides struggled to deal with the menace known as set pieces and paid dearly for it.

Nigeria was a victim in the 2014 World Cup as they crashed out to France in the second round. Senegal had a bitter pill in 2002 at the hands of Turkey.

When will this demon be exorcised?