Africa’s World Cup: how a continent that usually underperforms finally got it right


After the first match at the World Cup, an all-too-familiar scenario seems to play out for African football fans. Five matches were played, three lost, two drawn and only Ghana put the ball in the net in the loss to Portugal.

Another disappointing tournament seems to be lurking on the continent where football great and three-time champion Pelé once vowed to “win the World Cup before 2000”.

That statement came after Zaire’s humiliating performances in the group stage of the World Cup, including a 9-0 defeat to Yugoslavia in the 1974 tournament. Zaire was the first sub-Saharan nation to participate in the World Cup.

As Qatar 2022 draws to a close, however, the outlook will be very different.

For the first time in history, each of the continent’s teams has won a match in their group, the two have progressed through the group stage – a joint record – and Morocco will become the first African team First World Cup semi-final.

Against the backdrop of a tournament that seems increasingly defined by corporations and global politics, African nations have poured their passion into Qatar 2022 and brought much pride to their nation. .

The incredible skill and color of Senegal’s famed 12eme Gainde fans have always captured the attention of television directors, while supporters from Ghana and Cameroon have provided a setting. rhythmically like an emotional soundtrack every time the two teams compete.

Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly scored the winning goal that sent his country into the round of 16.

But even the sub-Saharan nations can’t match the mixed sound that the Moroccan and Tunisian fans have brought to this World Cup – every save gets a standing ovation, every touch Shadows of the opposition were booed and whistled incessantly.

This would not have happened had the World Cup not been hosted by Qatar.

Doha has long been not only the tourist center of Asia but also of Africa. So much so that it was easier for most fans to travel to Doha than it was in 2010 when the tournament was on African soil.

A Google search shows that it’s cheaper to fly from Douala to Doha than to Johannesburg. The cheapest route from Casablanca to Johannesburg is via Doha.

But it is not only the most affordable World Cup for Africans, but also the most accessible.

Francis Nkwain, a Cameroonian football expert and media executive, said Qatar has made it easier for fans from Africa to get visas than any other World Cup host country.

“Hoops us [Africans] Nkwain told CNN Sport they have to go through as a person to reach other parts of the world.

“[Getting visas] is a big challenge for Russia. It’s a huge challenge for Brazil [in 2014].”

Mohamed Kudus was Ghana's breakout star at the World Cup, scoring a brace against South Korea.

That accessibility cannot be underestimated in helping to turn neutral matches into “home” matches, especially for the North African nations who can count on the support. from across Africa and the Arab world, which Morocco head coach Walid Regragui was quick to admit.

“In the past, only Moroccans supported us,” he said before the win over Spain. “Now it’s Africans and Arabs.”

It is no coincidence that African nations have performed at their best at this World Cup since the tournament was held in South Africa, responding to the pride and passion of their supporters.

For decades, Africa has produced some of the best players to make beautiful games, but that has not always been the case for the continent’s coaches.

The lack of infrastructure to develop coaches, coupled with the lack of opportunities available to them at the highest level, means that African nations have historically frequently been led by coaches. European management.

In African football, these coaches are often called – less flatteringly – “plumbers”.

But the trend of African countries using foreign managers is changing.

It’s a development that Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, who earlier this year coached the Gambia to the quarter-finals at the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time, says it is welcome.

“The biggest advantage now is that African teams don’t choose expensive big-name coaches,” Saintfiet told CNN Sport.

“I think it was a big mistake in the past when in 2010… coaches like [Lars] Lagerbäck and Sven-Göran Eriksson… came to Africa without any experience of African football.”

For the first time in history, all five African nations participating in the World Cup were coached by their own nationals and all achieved some degree of success.

Only Roger Milla and Asamoah Gyan have scored more World Cup goals for an African nation than Wahbi Khazri.

The most successful was Regragui, who was at the forefront of the coaching revolution in Africa seeing former players take on coaching roles.

Affectionately nicknamed “Rass l’Avocat” (Butter Head) for his bald head, Regragui has been successful everywhere he works.

He led a mid-tier Moroccan club, FUS Rabat, to their only championship ever, winning the Qatar Stars League with Al Duhail, before returning home to claim a double. Champions League and Champions League with Wydad Casablanca – when Regragui became only the second Moroccan coach to win the African continent club title.

Perhaps more significantly, Regragui was also part of the first group of coaches to receive a professional coaching license from the Confederation of African Football earlier this year.

Before Regragui’s team, any African coach who wanted to get the continent coaching badge had to go to Europe or Asia to get those qualifications.

Before the tournament, Samuel Eto’o, president of the Football Association of Cameroon, made a rather odd prediction that all five African nations would make it through to their group stage and the final would be between Morocco and Cameroon.

He has been widely ridiculed for that statement, but his humorous comments are more inclined to change the view of his country and continent. Regragui also made a similar comment after Morocco eliminated Spain.

“At some point in Africa we had to be ambitious and why not win the World Cup?” he say.

Eto’o and Regragui speak of a much-needed shift in the mentality of African nations, that they should aspire to not only participate but compete at the top.

But if countries want to improve on Africa’s record-breaking performance at Qatar 2022 at the next World Cup, where nine teams from Africa will compete, that positive mindset must be maintained.

Vincent Aboubaker earlier this year scored eight goals at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, the most in a tournament since 1974.

Saintfiet agrees: “I really believe that Africa has to believe in the fact that in the years to come, they can have a world champion.

“I hope that happens in 2026, when more and more African teams are going there not to participate but to compete with the best to become world champions.”

While the likes of Yassine “Bono” Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziyech and coach Regragui will get most of the credit for Morocco’s historic performance, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF) should also be credited for the success of the Lions of Atlas at Qatar 2022.

After decades of mediocre football, the FMRF – with the backing of King Mohammed VI – decided to overhaul the nation’s football structure.

In 2009, FMRF opened its national football academy, Mohamed VI Football Academy, helping to develop current international players such as Nayef Aguerd and Youssef En-Nesryi, as well as attempting to tap talent in the community. the Moroccans by recruiting scouts from all over Europe to flag any qualified young players in Europe.

The federation also began to invest in women’s football, developing football in schools and clubs as well as creating a national league structure.

Sponsored by FMRF, Morocco is currently the only country in the world where two levels of women’s football are fully professional.

The crown jewel of Morocco’s football investment is the Mohamed VI Football Complex just outside of Rabat.

The training complex includes four five-star hotels, eight FIFA-standard pitches – one of which is indoor in a climate-controlled building – as well as medical facilities including a dentist.

That investment, coupled with a host of stellar talent and Africa’s best coach, has catapulted Morocco into the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Achraf Hakimi scored a 'panenka' penalty to give Morocco its first knockout at a World Cup.

Attending the next World Cup in 2026, Africa will have at least nine spots compared to five in Qatar, something that could have a similar transformative effect on Africa’s performances at the World Cup.

But if the nations that have not qualified for the competition like Nigeria, Algeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt – Algeria and Nigeria lost to Qatar because of the away goal rule – want to continue the success seen in Qatar, they will have to think about follow the example of five countries that have made the continent proud.

Notably developing its football infrastructure to ensure they are not left behind by their European and South American counterparts, something FIFA is helping by investing nearly $600 million in the cycle. 4-year period to develop African men’s and women’s football.

Much work remains to be done but after decades of frustration and disappointment among Africans on the world stage, Qatar 2022 could be the turning point to change the destiny of the continent and help one of its teams win the title. won the World Cup.


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