KweséESPN's Great Hopes for African football in 2018

Alex Iwobi & Brian Idowu of Nigeria EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV

A new year brings new optimism, and 2018 has the potential to be a year of significant progress in the African game.

Ahmad Ahmad firmly has his feet under the table now, and we should - surely - begin to see the fruits of his early tenure as CAF President, while five of the continent's finest national sides are set to represent Africa at the World Cup in Russia in six months' time.

As we stand on the brink of 2018, KweséESPN's football writers each pick out their one great wish for the African game over the next 12 months.

Simba Mushati: The re-emergence of Zambia as a powerhouse in African football is something worth looking forward to in 2018.

Chipolopolo have endured a barren spell since their stunning run to the Africa Cup of Nations title back in 2012, but signs are emerging that the regional giant is reawakening.

A crop of young stars announced their arrival by winning the African U-20 Championships on home soil early this year before reaching the quarter finals of the U-20 World Cup.

Midfielder Enoch Mwepu and forwards Fashion Sakala and Patson Daka have since been promoted to the senior team, and their impact has been spectacular.

Others should soon follow.

If Zambia can maintain and even improve on their form from the World Cup qualifiers, where they finished second behind Nigeria and ahead of giants Algeria and Cameroon, Southern Africa could be primed to celebrate a new regional heavyweight.

Dami Ugbane: The Teranga Lions of Senegal, boasting some of the continent's finest footballers, are tipped to make a huge impact at the World Cup in only their second appearance following a 16-year absence.

My hope for the West Africans is that they can at least equal the quarter-final finish they achieved back in 2002.

Led by Sadio Mane, ably supported by workaholic Idrissa Gueye and the much sought-after Kalidou Koulibaly in defence, they certainly have the quality to at least emulate that last-eight finish.

Maher Mezahi: I recently spent time watching African nations in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Clear progress was made from one World Cup to the next; Tunisia won Africa's first match in 1978, Algeria shocked the world in 1982, Morocco made the round of 16 in 1986, and a Roger Milla-led Cameroon qualified to the quarter finals in 1990 before Nigeria stole the world's hearts in late 90s.

My biggest hope for 2018 is that we see an African team break the voodoo and finally qualify to a World Cup semi final.

Michael Oti Adjei: That one African team will at least reach the semi finals of the World Cup.

There is no doubt the continent has made significant strides at the tournament, but the final four remains a glass ceiling that's yet to be smashed.

I hope one of Nigeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal or Morocco finally sort that out in Russia.

Colin Udoh: Please can we give women's football a fair shake in 2018!?

One of the key planks of Ahmad's campaign promises was to give the women's game more attention, but nearly one year later, it has barely been discussed.

The African Women Nations Cup last year proved that fans will turn up to enjoy the games, with attendances at some games in Cameroon outstripping the men's tournament in Gabon a month later.

My big wish for 2018 is for CAF to institute a continental competition for women.

None of that excuse of not enough teams can be accepted!

There were just four participants at the inaugural African Nations Cup tournament in 1957, which was reduced to three after South Africa were booted out.

So even if we have just two clubs fighting it out, let us start. It can only grow bigger and better.

Nick Said: That an African country will make new ground and reach the semi finals of the World Cup.

With the talent available it is possible; it comes down to organisation, attitude and execution.