The FIFA World Cup opening ceremony was very different, especially since there was no alcohol allowed! One wonders why this was communicated so close to the start of the tournament; despite this, the show continues. All venues were sold out and it seemed people still enjoyed themselves. In general, I am not very interested in opening ceremonies. I just want to watch football! As for Qatar and Ecuador? In the same way as Bafana's opener in our World Cup, Qatar took the same path, possibly even worse.
England v Iran
To be honest, Iran didn't deserve to be there, they weren't good enough and as a country came at a difficult time. The world discussed everything except the players; bribes, politics etc. It wasn't a very positive image to the world, and the players probably felt that leading to the hiding they received. I do also feel that it's unlikely England will go all the way. Their performance against Iran was just not good enough. Given England's performance in that early game, Iran could have done better.
Senegal v Netherlands and Argentina v Saudi Arabia
Senegal could've scored two or three goals before the Netherlands opened the scoring. Furthermore, they lacked an upfront player with confidence, which left them exposed.
Argentina should have done more with their star players, referring to Argentina's humiliation against Saudi Arabia. They have Martinez, United's centre-back, Otamendi, and Di Maria on their team. Help should be provided by those people. Did you see where one of the goals came from? Once the Saudi players had the ball, no one attempted to get it back, once!
My motto is that you are only as good as your team, and this team appears to be doing exactly what they did in Brazil. When they played Nigeria during that World Cup. They didn't look like a team that wanted to win, they lacked that desire. The sky blue and whites played great during their build-up, in friendlies, and suddenly, when it mattered, the wheels came off! But let’s not take anything away from Saudi Arabia, they played with incredible confidence and energy.
France v Australia
Australia just blatantly asked for it in their opener against France. You don’t score against the champions just like that! France came back like the champions they are. They looked confident and organised. I am not surprised by the score line and I felt that if Mbappe was even calmer and more collected, it would’ve been more. They looked like a side that could cruise to the finals.
Denmark v Tunisia
Denmark struggled a bit against Tunisia, it looked like both teams were struggling. It was nothing like the Denmark we saw in the Euros. Perhaps they were a bit intimidated by the big stage and the Tunisians. If you can recall, in the first tackle of the game, the defender from Tunisia went in for a very hard tackle on Ericsson and punched his chest as if to say “we're in it!” I think that is where Denmark took their foot off the gas for a bit. Tunisia had the best approach from the start.
Morocco v Croatia and Belgium
For me, Croatia has so much potential and I like them as a consistent World Cup team. They have qualified for each and every World Cup thus far and came so very close last time around, it's one team that just never seems to break through, you can put them in the same boat as the Netherlands. Actually, the same can be said about Belgium as well, both are in their golden era, unfortunately without any golden egg. They have such a good squad at the moment, young and depth, with the likes of KDB, Hazard, and Lukaku. Superstars!
If you were to ask me, they are better than any other team in Qatar at the moment. They have youngsters and experience. That combination with Vini Junior and Neymar is extremely dangerous, as long as they don't play alone. It almost feels as if they can score on demand if they really want to! Really a shame about Neymar to miss out on some early games.
Looking at France, I was very impressed with the “star of France’ Mbappe. He played for the team, not for himself. If you are that good you need to play the people around you, and that is what Kylian did. With Benzema, who’s a Ballon D’or winner, he has all the prowess and skill. Compared to Giroud, who will never replace Ben, he is not as flexible as Benzema, not a box man like Benzema. So they will definitely miss Benzema. But Kante, not much. Because of other tenacious midfielders that can hunt and execute like true professionals.
The difference between African teams and European teams - All African teams play their lungs out in the early stages and it catches up with them much quicker than the Europeans. We are not that conditioned for the hard, physical pressure games. The momentum dies off quicker. From the Continent, Ghana definitely looked good. They have so many players in the EPL. Thomas Patey, Inaki Williams are the standouts for me in that team. Cameroon did well in the AFCON, when they lost in the semi-final.
One African team that we are missing is Egypt. I know how good they can be due to their World Cup experience. They are still buzzing from 2006 I would think when they took France to the cleaners!
But for the continent to achieve anything at a World Cup we will need to deal with Brazil, and get on their level. They will always be a problem for us as a continent, for as long as we have a World Cup, they will be a favourite. You never know what Neymar, Mbappe, Vini Junior might do!
Marks ‘Mafa’ Maponyane is a former South African international footballer. Born in Meadowlands, Soweto, he played for Kaizer Chiefs, Dynamos, Orlando Pirates and Wits University. Marks was crowned S.A Footballer Of The Year in 1983, 1987 & 1994. Maponyane is still the Kaizer Chiefs all time leading goal scorer with 85 goals in 1984. He has also been voted S.A Sports Hero Of The Year. Marks also played for Vitoria Setubal in Portugal and Bafana Bafana from 1992-1995. In his 18 years of professional football he made a combined 433 appearances in which he scored a total of 168 goals. He worked for Premier Milling, Adidas S.A and Reebok for a total of 11 years. Marks is a soccer analyst for Radio 2000 and on SAB. Maponyane has been a motivational speaker and MC since 1990.