FIFA World Cup: At long last Africa’s semi final berth achieved

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Morocco has been the pacesetters for Africa at the just ended Mundial; they were the first African country to top their group in the World Cup and qualify for the knockout stage in Mexico, 1986, and 36 years later became the first African country to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup in the 92 years of the competition’s history.

Morocco shocked the world by first beating Belgium in their second group game, a side that had never lost to an African opposition in the World Cup, before topping the group ahead of the European giants and 2018 World Cup finalists – Croatia.

From left Hakim Ziyec and Achraf Hakimi inspires Morocco to their World Cup history

In the Round of 16, they faced powerhouse Spain who were expected to end Morocco’s run in the World Cup, but they turned out to be the second casualty of the North Africans as they set an unwanted record with their feeble penalty kicks in the shootout.

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Up stepped Portugal in the quarter finals but just like their neighbors, they also fell to Atlas lions and had no answers to Morocco’s effective and defensive tactical approach and technical discipline. Youssef En-Nesyri’s outrageous header in the 41st minute, sent Portugal crashing out of the World Cup and history was made for Morocco and Africa as a continent.

Youssef En-Nesyri’s only goal against Portugal sent Morocco into the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup

Never before had an African team reached the semi-finals of the World Cup; this was the first time, thus going into the annals of history.

The run by the Al-Maghrib side was put to a stop by Didier Deschamps’ French side in the semi final after they suffered a painful 2-0 defeat despite seeing much of the game and possession of the ball. The job was not done yet as they were left with an opportunity to win the bronze medal and become the first country outside of Europe and South America to win a medal at the World Cup. They faced Croatia in the 3rd place playoff game, having already locked horns with the Croats in their group opener and played a goalless draw. They were unable to grab the chance and fell to a 2-1 defeat which meant they finished 4th without a medal but 4th place out of 32 is not bad going forward and they can improve a lot with the quality of players at their disposal and their astute coach.

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Nevertheless, African footballing talents have in the past and present captivated spectators and earned the admiration of the global footballing fraternity with their skills, flair, aggressiveness and commitment on the field of play.

The players have always been hailed, applauded and congratulated for their thrilling contribution to the beautiful game of football with the likes of Roger Milla, Kalusha Bwalya, Abedi Ayew Pele, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Adebayor, Asamoah Gyan, Nwanko Kanu, Sulley Ali Muntari, Victor Ikpeba, Raba Madger, Michael Essien, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Hakim Ziyech just to mention but a few, making names for themselves.

However, when some of these players got the opportunity to play in the World Cup, they failed to make any significant impact as a team. Coaching instability and inappropriate appointments coupled with interference from their football associations, have denied African teams the familiarity and cohesion that comes with managerial stability devoid of unnecessary interferences.

Meanwhile a couple of them have shown−if not their full potential−glimpses of greatness in the World Cup when they had the opportunity to play and the need arose. With the good old Roger Milla in 1990 and 1994, El Hajj Husseini Diouf and Asamoah Gyan of Ghana can be put in the same category although Gyan is seen as a hero and a villain at the same time in his country.

Africa as a continent is blessed with talents and these players show how good they can be, week-in week-out in top European Leagues. France won two World Cups while having prominent and key stars born in Africa or born of African parents in their team, which is a testament that Africa has got the talent. However, the reasons above have contributed immensely to Africans abysmal performance at the World Cup.

The FIFA World Cup also referred to as the Mundial is a global football showpiece organized by FIFA every 4 years with the very first edition in Uruguay 1930. Egypt became the first African country to participate in the World Cup in Italy 1934 where they lost their first game 4-2 to Hungary with Abdul-Rahman Fauzi scoring both goals for the Pharaohs. Things didn’t go well for Africa in the early years of the World Cup and Africa had to boycott the tournament at a point in order to get the recognition they deserve.


No African country qualified for the World Cup again until 1970 in Mexico when Morocco qualified. That was after Africa had boycotted the tournament in 1966 in protest at FIFA ruling that required the 3 second round winners from the African World Cup qualification zone to enter a playoff round against winners of Asia in order to win a place at the finals. Africans felt that winning their zone alone was enough in itself to merit a qualification for the World Cup and due to that, Africans decided to pull out of the World Cup until at least one African team had a place assured in the World Cup−which happened only after the 1966 World Cup.

The boycott in 1966 paid off and Africa was awarded a slot at the finals in Mexico 1970 when Morocco became the second African country to also qualify for the World Cup.

Zaire also qualified for the 1974 World Cup, becoming the first Sub-Saharan African country to reach the finals, setting an unwanted record of losing by one of the greatest margin in the history of the competition, 9-0 against Yugoslavia and conceded 14 goals in just 3 matches without scoring even a single goal.


In the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Tunisia became the first African country to win a game at the Mundial, defeating Mexico 3-1 lost 1-0 to Poland and drew 0-0 with West Germany. However, they failed to qualify from the group stage after amassing only 3 points.


The 1982 World Cup in Spain saw the expansion of the tournament from 16 to 24 teams. This allowed Africa to present 2 representatives – Algeria and Cameroon – with Algeria producing one of the greatest World Cup upsets on the first day by beating the then reigning European champions West Germany 2-1. They beat Chile too 3-2 and had a chance of qualifying for the second round only to be denied by controversial result in the last group game between West Germany and Austria where West Germany beat Austria 1-0 and saw the elimination of Algeria from the World Cup.

The tournament was Algeria’s first World Cup experience.


Algeria had already played their final group stage match the day before and were second on the table in contention to qualify to the next round. West Germany and Austria knew very well that a West Germany win by 1 or 2 goals would qualify both of them while a larger German victory would qualify Algeria over Austria and either a draw or victory for Austria will eliminate the Germans.

After 10 minutes of all-out attack, West Germany scored a goal and after the goal was scored, the two sides kicked the ball aimlessly around for the rest of the match. Algeria protested to FIFA after the game and FIFA ruled that the result be allowed to stand but introduced a revised qualification system at subsequent World Cups in which the final 2 games in each group were played simultaneously to avoid such occurrence in the future.


In the Mexico 1986 World Cup, Algeria having been controversially eliminated in the previous edition, qualified again for the second time running together with Morocco. Algeria earned just a single point this time and got eliminated from the group stage for good.

Morocco on the other hand became the first African country to qualify from the group stage of the World Cup. They topped their group after drawing 0-0 with both England and Poland and thrashing Portugal 3-1 but got eliminated in the Round of 16 by eventual finalist Germany with a 1-0 score line.

For the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Cameroon and Egypt represented Africa. Egypt drew two of their group games, lost one and got eliminated.

Cameroon also topped their group ahead of the Maradona-led reigning World champions Argentina and 1988 Euro runners up Soviet Union. They also caused an upset by beating Argentina who were the defending champions of the World Cup 1-0 on the opening day of the World Cup through Francois Omam-Biyick’s only strike. They went on to beat Colombia 2-1 in the Round of 16 after extra time before narrowly losing 3-2 to England in the quarter final. Cameroon’s run was powered by 4 goals from the 38-year-old Roger Milla who set a record at the finals as the oldest player ever to score in the World Cup.


As a result of the strong performance by Cameroon in 1990, Africa was awarded 3 slots for the 1994 World Cup in USA, with Nigerian joining Cameroon and Morocco in qualifying. Both Morocco and Cameroon crashed out of the group stage, Roger Milla however has a consolation goal for Cameroon in their 6-1 drubbing by Russia in the group stage and broke his own record in 1990 as the oldest player ever to score in the World Cup and set another one, this time at 42 years. A record that stands till date.

Nigeria reached the Round of 16 in their first World Cup Appearance and took the lead against Italy only for Roberto Baggio to get an equalizer late in the second half for Italy and forced the game into extra time. Baggio scored again in the extra time and won the game for Italy, sending Nigeria packing.


The 1998 FIFA World Cup in France was expanded from 24 to 32 teams and Africa was awarded 5 slots for the first time: Nigeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Cameroon and South Africa all qualified but only Nigeria could progress beyond the group phase, the remaining 4 were all eliminated after the group stage.

When the World Cup was hosted for the first time in Asia in 2002, Cameroon Tunisia, Nigeria, South Africa and Senegal qualified with Senegal making its debut at the Mundial and was the only country from Africa to qualify beyond the group stage beating defending champions France 1-0 in the first group game. They went on to beat Sweden 1-0 in the Round of 16 before losing 1-0 to Turkey too in the quarter final which ended their fairytale run in the tournament. Senegal equalled Cameroon’s record of reaching the quarter final of the World Cup becoming the furthest an African team has gone in the World Cup.

In Germany 2006, 4 out of the 5 African representatives in the World Cup made their debut at the Mundial; Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast and Angola all making their debut with the exception of Tunisia who were going to the tournament for the 4th time. 4 out of the 5 crashed out of the competition in the group stage with Ghana being the only survivor after the group stage and also got eliminated by Brazil in the Round of 16 after they were beaten 3-0.


In 2010, the FIFA World Cup was hosted on African soil for the first time with South Africa as host and by virtue of being host nation, South Africa qualified automatically in addition to the 5 World Cup slots Africa already has. Of the 6 African nations only 3 won any match (South Africa, Ghana and Ivory Coast) and only Ghana progressed out of the group stages.

South Africa hosted the first FIFA World Cup on the continent

On June 11, 2010, South Africa’s midfielder, Siphiwe Tshabalala, whiles gaining his 50th cap for the nation in the opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup against Mexico in the 55th minutes, scored the first goal of the tournament which erupted a fully packed Soccer City (FNB Stadium) into wild celebration.

File Photo: Sifwiwe Tshabalala and his teammate celebrating the first goal scored in the 2010 FIFA World Cup

Ghana went on to knock the USA out in the Round of 16 by 2-1 after extra time only to be denied a semi-final berth by a last-minute Luis Suarez handball in the quarter final clash between the West African Giants and the two-time world champions Uruguay.

Ghana was thus awarded a late penalty however Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent kick struck the crossbar and Ghana eventually lost to Uruguay in the penalty shootout after extra time.

Asamoah Gyan’s infamous penalty miss against Uruguay

Ghana joined Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) in reaching the quarter final of the World Cup, the furthest any African country has gone in the tournament’s history.


The first time more than one African country progressed beyond the group stage was in Brazil 2014. Algeria and Nigeria both qualified from their respective groups but were both eliminated in the Round of 16, 2-1 by Germany and 2-0 by France respectively.

In Russia 2018 none of the 5 African representatives was able to progress out of the group stage, the worst performance since Mexico 1986.

With the 22nd edition in Qatar, two out of the 5 African teams qualified from their groups: Morocco and Senegal. However, all the 5 won at least a match with Tunisia beating defending champions France and Cameroon handing Brazil their first taste of defeat in the World Cup by an African team, being the highlight of the group stage, yet both Cameroon and Tunisia failed to qualify from their groups. Ghana on the other side won against South Korea but lost to both Portugal and Uruguay and also failed to get out of the group stage.

Senegal also lost to the Netherlands in their first group game, won against host nation Qatar and won against Ecuador to book their place in the last 16 and were walloped 3-0 by England in the Round of 16.

Morocco took it upon themselves to lift the whole Africa and breathe the breath of life into African football, becoming the first African country to reach the semifinal of the FIFA World Cup.

Morocco becomes the first African side to book its place in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup

This has however been long overdue looking at the talents Africa was churning out and the prospects. One person who is regarded by many as the greatest player of all-time, Edson Arantes do Nascimento Pele predicted in 1977 that, an African country will win the World Cup before the year 2000 but that didn’t materialize, and he extended it to 2010 which still didn’t work out.

How long will it take before that prediction comes to pass? The wait is still on!! But with the performances the African teams produced in this year’s World Cup especially, Morocco, who have proven beyond doubt that they are Africa’s pacesetters at the Mundial, the wait may soon end.

Africa is not very far away from winning the coveted World Cup trophy. Africans would prepare for 2026 with hope and optimism that it is never impossible for an African side to also win and conquer the World.

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