Chasing pickpockets, a 45-year-old keeper & pit bull terriers - African players' World Cup journeys - Whazupnaija - Nigeria blogs, News & Entertainment

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Chasing pickpockets, a 45-year-old keeper & pit bull terriers – African players’ World Cup journeys

Chasing pickpockets, a 45-year-old keeper & pit bull terriers – African players’ World Cup journeys
Egypt are competing at their first World Cup finals since Italia 90

Africa will have five teams competing at the World Cup in Russia as the continent looks to reach the semi-finals for the first time.

Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Senegal’s Sadio Mane are star names but what about the lesser-known players and their backgrounds?

There is a 45-year-old goalkeeper who is appearing at his first finals and a midfielder who once chased a thief and recovered a stolen wallet.

BBC Sport turns the spotlight on some of the African players who could be playing at the tournament over the next few weeks.

Essam El-Hadary (Egypt)

At the age of 45, Egypt captain Essam El-Hadary stands to make history in Russia by becoming the oldest player to take part in a World Cup finals.

The goalkeeper, veteran of 150-plus caps, will comfortably break Faryd Mondragon’s record. The Colombian, also a goalkeeper, was 43 years and three days old when he played in a group match against Japan four years ago.

El-Hadary is older than three coaches at the World Cup including Senegal’s 42-year-old Aliou Cisse and Serbia’s 44-year-old Mladen Krstajic. Belgium’s Roberto Martinez is also 44.

The Egyptian made his international debut 22 years ago – four months after England boss Gareth Southgate won his first cap. He is a four-time Africa Cup of Nations winner but this is his first World Cup.

“My age is 45, but for me, this is just a number on paper,” said El-Hadary. “My father, who passed away, told me that his dream was to watch me playing at a World Cup and I want to make my dad proud.”

One of the secrets to his prolonged playing career is spending up to 20 minutes a day in an ice bath.

El-Hadary plays in Saudi Arabia – who Egypt face in a Group A game on 25 June – with Al-Taawoun.

Egypt start their campaign against Uruguay in Yekaterinburg on 15 June before facing hosts Russia in Saint Petersburg on 19 June.

Egypt goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary (left) jokes with forward Mohamed Salah

Ogenyi Onazi (Nigeria)

Nigeria, who are competing at their sixth World Cup finals, have bags of courage and bravery in midfield in the shape of Ogenyi Onazi.

During five seasons with Lazio, winning the Coppa Italia in 2013, the 25-year-old once chased a thief through the streets of Rome to recover a wallet stolen from an older tourist.

Onazi caught the suspect, dragged him back to where he stole the wallet and handed him over to local police.

Now playing his club football in Turkey with Trabzonspor, Onazi was part of the Super Eagles side that reached the last 16 of the World Cup in Brazil four years ago.

Nigeria start this tournament against Croatia in Kaliningrad on 16 June (20:00 BST). Gernot Rohr’s side then take on Iceland in Volgograd on 22 June (16:00 BST) and round off their Group D campaign against Argentina in Saint Petersburg on 26 June (19:00 BST).

Ogenyi Onazi was denied a work permit to play for Birmingham City in 2017

Faycal Fajr (Morocco)

Morocco arrive in Russia for their first World Cup since France 98 with the most foreign-born players of any team – 17 of their 23-man squad were born outside the country.

Midfielder Faycal Fajr, 29, was born in France and plays his club football for Getafe in Spain.

He has recovered from a broken leg suffered when jumping to avoid a pit bull terrier.

Morocco launch their Group B campaign against Iran in Saint Petersburg on Friday (16:00 BST) before facing Portugal on 20 June (13:00 BST).

Herve Renard’s side then finish their group campaign against Spain in Kaliningrad on 25 June (19:00 BST).

Faycal Fajr has played in Spain for Elche, Deportivo La Coruna and Getafe

Yohan Benalouane (Tunisia)

Defender Yohan Benalouane is hoping to play more games at the World Cup than he managed in the Premier League in the whole of 2017-18.

Benalouane made just one top-flight start for Leicester City last season but hopes to propel Tunisia to the knockout stages in the North African nation’s first World Cup since 2006.

Born in France, Benalouane is eligible due to his Tunisian father.

Away from football, he is known as a sharp dresser and is a fan of art, regularly tweeting paintings of himself.

Tunisia are in Group G and start against England on 18 June in Volgograd (19:00 BST) before travelling to Moscow to take on Belgium on 23 June (13:00 BST).

World Cup debutants Panama provide the opposition for their final group game in Saransk on 28 June (19:00 BST).

Benalouane joined Leicester from Italian side Atlanta in 2015

M’Baye Niang (Senegal)

A former wonder-kid turned bad boy, M’Baye Niang is Senegal’s World Cup wildcard.

Born in an unforgiving suburb in Paris, Niang finally pledged allegiance to Senegal, his parents’ homeland, last autumn – six years after pulling out of a Senegal squad and rescinding his decision to represent the country.

AC Milan forward Niang, 23, admits to having made numerous “silly mistakes which have hurt me”.

His France career effectively ended when he incurred a 12-month ban for breaking a curfew to visit a nightclub.

In 2016, the former Watford loanee returned for the Italian Cup final after an 11-week absence caused by his car skidding off the road – only to then anger the club and fans by jumping off the roof of a house into a swimming pool and posting footage on social media.

Senegal are at their first World Cup since 2002.

They play Poland in Moscow on 19 June (16:00 BST) before facing Japan in Yekaterinburg on 24 June (16:00 BST) and round off their Group H campaign against Colombia in Samara on 28 June (15:00 BST).

M’Baye Niang was Caen’s youngest debutant aged 16 years and 126 days in April 2011
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