FIFA World Cup: Senegal, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Cameroon story so far

Should VAR have denied Ronaldo his penalty vs. Ghana? (1:12)

Dale Johnson discusses the VAR incidents from Portugal's clash with Ghana. (1:12)

Africa's five representatives at the FIFA World Cup have made a slow start in Qatar, but it hasn't all been doom and gloom for them.

Here are the talking points, the lessons learned, and the major takeaways from the African teams' performances so far.

Is Africa set for another blank?

Africa's collective record in Qatar reads played five, won zero, drawn two, lost three, leading some pundits to wonder if the continent is set for another first-round whitewash -- an unwanted repeat of Russia 2018.

A closer examination of the state of play suggests things aren't all that bleak, however.

Two points from a possible 15 doesn't tell anywhere near the full story of the teams' performances, nor of their prospects of progression, and there's still reason for optimism.

Senegal may have been beaten by the Netherlands, but their next opponents -- Qatar (FIFA ranked No. 51) and Ecuador (No. 46) -- are two of the seven lowest-ranked seven teams in the tournament.

Even without Sadio Mane, the Teranga Lions have the quality to take six points and progress.

Morocco and Tunisia, meanwhile, secured good draws against teams ranked No. 16 (Croatia) and No. 11 (Denmark) in the world respectively, and Ghana largely held their own against Portugal, the toughest team in their group.

Considering the lack of ambition shown by Ghana's next two opponents -- Uruguay and South Korea -- in their earlier meeting, the Black Stars can be encouraged that they can muscle their way into the knockouts.

Cameroon are in a tougher spot after losing to Switzerland, particularly knowing they have Brazil still to come; the Indomitable Lions likely now need to get a result against the Selecao or rely on goal difference to stand any chance of progression.

Even if they beat Serbia and draw with Brazil -- which would be a tremendous overachievement -- they still wouldn't be guaranteed to progress.


What was behind Mendy's poor game vs. Netherlands?

Gab Marcotti react to the Netherlands' 2-0 win over Senegal in their World Cup opener.

Mendy needs to banish Chelsea blues

Senegal's Edouard Mendy was named the best goalkeeper on the planet at FIFA's 'The Best' awards a year ago, but he was Africa's biggest underperformer in the first round of fixtures in Qatar.

Mendy sat out two months of Premier League action before the World Cup, having been axed by Chelsea coach Graham Potter due to his erratic form, and he returned to action only when Kepa Arrizabalaga picked up an injury.

Senegal hopes that he would put that miserable Chelsea form behind him were dashed when his error allowed Cody Gakpo to open the scoring and to turn a tight contest in the Netherlands' favour on Monday.

There had been warning signs earlier, as Mendy went far from his line and through a melee of players to punch away a Dutch cross; it was an unnecessarily risky move, and, while he got away with it, the decision illustrated poor judgement that would later let him down.

Senegal coach Aliou Cisse and his team must succeed where Chelsea failed: to identify the problem -- whether it be Mendy's confidence, sharpness, decision-making, or something else -- and get the goalkeeper back on track to being one of the world's best if the Africa Cup of Nations champions are to realise their potential.

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North African teams have a critical advantage

Morocco and Tunisia enjoyed awesome backing in the build-up, to and during their opening fixtures, with a combination of travelling fans and expat support in Qatar generating a partisan atmosphere.

For both -- but particularly Tunisia, who have an extensive diaspora in Qatar -- the fervour from the terraces surely gave the teams extra impetus and motivation, especially when their defences came under pressure.

The strong bond between Morocco's players and their support was evident during the powerful rendition of the country's Cherifian anthem ahead of their opener, while Tunisia's players were visibly feeding off the energy provided by their raucous fanbase as Denmark were neutralised.

"[They] lifted our spirits," Tunisia head coach Jalel Kadri said in his post-match press conference. "Mentally it gives us a great lift and really helped us, but tactically and physically we also played very well."

Aissa Laidouni 's frantic early celebration of a forceful tackle on Christian Eriksen set the tone, whipping the crowd into a frenzy, and teams facing the Carthage Eagles know they're in for a hostile atmosphere in the games to come.


Onuoha sympathetic with Embolo's lack of celebration

Nedum Onuoha understands the lack of celebration from Breel Embolo after his winner for Switzerland against Cameroon.

Breel Embolo shows Cameroon what they're missing

France and Germany are both benefiting from the services of players eligible for Cameroon at this World Cup, with the likes of Aurelien Tchouameni, William Saliba and Youssoufa Moukoko all potential breakout stars.

However, it was Yaounde-born striker Breel Embolo who stole the show on Thursday --- scoring for Switzerland against Cameroon.

The forward opted not to celebrate his fine first-time effort as he fired Switzerland to an opening win against the land of his birth, but his sharpness in front of goal provided a stark contrast to the Indomitable Lions' profligacy.

With Africa Cup of Nations top scorer Vincent Aboubakar resigned to the bench, Bryan Mbeumo, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Karl Toko Ekambi -- all of whom were born in Europe -- were lively without forging an opening while Embolo required just one shot to secure all three points for the Europeans.

"Football writes such stories," Switzerland head coach Murat Yakin said after the match.

"I told Breel that Cameroon are your friends but they are your opponents, too. I'm happy with his performance."

Key decision goes against Ghana -- not for the first time

The Black Stars, it seems, just can't get a break at a major tournament, with another key decision going against them on the biggest stage.

The West African giants still remember Luis Suarez's illegal intervention at the 2010 World Cup, when he handled Dominic Adiyiah 's goalbound header on the line to prevent the Black Stars progressing to the semifinals.

Uruguay will argue that Suarez took the punishment within the rules -- the attacked received a red card -- but still Ghanaians believe they were cheated out of their rightful place in the final four.

As recently as the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, the Black Stars were furious when Gabon played on even though Ghana had a man down injured and went on to score an 88th-minute equaliser that ultimately proved costly for Ghana.

Yet again, on Thursday, a critical decision went against them -- and this time it appears as though they might have a point.

Mohammed Salisu's challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo in the 64th minute, to nick away the ball, was a risky interception, but the Southampton centre-back appeared to have timed it to perfection.

Ronaldo tumbled to the turf, prompting Moroccan-American referee Ismail Elfath to point to the spot; the ex-Manchester United forward promptly scored the penalty before celebrating gleefully.

Replays indicated that Salisu had indeed touched the ball away from Ronaldo's feet before the attacker fell to the ground, yet there appeared to be no intervention from VAR to correct or inform the official.

"The VAR should get the referee out of trouble," ex-Premier League referee Mike Dean said on beIN Sports. "The angle from behind the goal [shows] the defender clearly plays the ball, Ronaldo then touches the back of the defender, goes down, instigates a contact.

"VAR should have got involved and should have invited the referee over to have another look at it. It's scary."

Ghana responded better in Doha than they did against Gabon in the AFCON, putting petulance to one side in the hunt for goals, but their efforts weren't enough to avoid a 3-2 defeat.

This latest decision may not burn as intensely or as long as the Suarez handball, but it may prove to be a critical turning point as the Black Stars look to defy the critics and escape their group in Qatar.

Sarr must now help ease Mane hurt

Senegal's tournament opener against the Netherlands was played out against the backdrop of national mourning following the loss of talisman and star player Sadio Mane to a fibula injury.

No single player can replace the reigning African Footballer of the Year, but Senegal do have talent who can step into the breach.

Krepin Diatta was introduced for their opener, but it was Ismaila Sarr who took the mantle as the team's inspiration in the final third.

Senegal failed to score a goal, but he was a creative presence throughout. Only Antoine Griezmann and Eriksen have created more goalscoring chances in the tournament, while only Neymar and Gavi have been fouled more times than Sarr.

The fouls provide evidence of how the Oranje backline struggled to deal with Sarr, and his unpredictability -- he can set up teammates, drop a shoulder to open up play, accelerate away from a defender, strike effectively at goal -- make him a genuine threat moving forward.

Too often in his career, golden moments have been followed by ineffectual showings -- he averaged one goal every five games in the Premier League -- but he must take his opportunity in the next two matches if Senegal are to forget Mane, for now at least.