After the first round of games at the World Cup, an all-too-familiar scenario seemed to be playing out for African football fans. Five games have passed, three defeats, two draws and only Ghana have conceded a goal against Portugal.
Another disappointing tournament seemed to be in store for the continent where Brazil great and three-time winner Pele once declared he would “win the World Cup by 2000”.
The quote comes from Zaire’s humiliating World Cup group stage performance in the 1974 tournament, which included a 9-0 drubbing of Yugoslavia. Zaire was the first sub-Saharan country to participate in the World Cup.
However, as Qatar 2022 approaches, the outlook looks very different.
Each team from the continent won their group for the first time in history, two teams advanced from the group stage – a joint record – and Morocco will become the first African team to play in a World Cup semi-final.
Against the backdrop of a tournament increasingly defined by global politics and corporations, African countries have provided passion for Qatar 2022 and provided plenty of pride for their nations.
The incredible skill and color of Senegal’s famous support group 12eme Gainde never failed to impress the TV directors, while the contingents of fans from Ghana and Cameroon brought a rhythmic soundscape that resembled a thrilling cinematic soundtrack every time the two teams played.
But even the sub-Saharan nations couldn’t quite match the cacophony the Moroccan and Tunisian fans brought to this World Cup – every clearance was met with noise and every opposition touch was constantly hissed and hissed.
None of this would have been possible if the World Cup had not been hosted by Qatar.
Doha has long been a travel hub not only in Asia but also in Africa. So for most fans, traveling to Doha was easier than when the 2010 tournament was held on African soil.
A Google search shows that flying from Douala to Doha is cheaper than from Johannesburg. Want to buy the cheapest flight from Casablanca to Johannesburg?
But it is not only the cheapest World Cup for Africans, but also the most accessible.
Cameroonian football expert and media executive Francis Nkwane says Qatar has made it easier for fans from Africa to get visas than other World Cup hosts.
“Mom, we are [Africans] In order to enter other parts of the world, it must be passed as a nation, Nkwain told CNN Sport.
“[Getting visas] There was a big test with Russia. It was a huge test for Brazil [in 2014].”
This availability can turn neutral matches into “home” matches, especially for the North African countries who can count on the support of Africa and the Arab world, as Moroccan head coach Walid Regragui quickly admitted.
“Until now, only the Moroccans have supported us,” he said before the win over Spain. “Now Africans and Arabs.”
It is no wonder that the African nations have shown their best performance in this World Cup since the tournament was held in South Africa, and they are responding to the pride and passion of their supporters.
Over the decades, Africa has produced the best players to grace the beautiful game, but that hasn’t always been the case for the continent’s coaches.
Lacking the infrastructure to develop coaches and the lack of opportunities afforded to them at the highest level, historically African nations were often not led by European managers.
In African football circles, these coaches are often referred to as “plumbers”.
However, the trend of African countries hiring foreign managers is changing.
Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, who coached Gambia’s debutant team to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, says the celebration is celebrated.
“The biggest advantage is that now African teams don’t have to choose expensive coaches,” Saintfiet told CNN Sport.
“I think that was a big mistake in the past in 2010 … that the coaches liked [Lars] Lagerback and Sven-Goran Eriksson… came to Africa with no experience in African football.
For the first time in history, all five African countries were coached by their own countrymen at the World Cup, and all enjoyed varying degrees of success.
The most successful is Regragi, who is spearheading a coaching revolution in Africa that is seeing former players take on coaching roles.
Nicknamed “Rass l’Avocat” (Avocado Head) for his bald head, Regraghi was successful everywhere.
He led Moroccan club FUS Rabat to their only ever league title, won the Qatari Stars League with Al Duhail and won the League and Champions League double with Wydad Casablanca before returning home – with Regraghi as Morocco’s second player. The coach won the African continental club title.
Perhaps more importantly, Regraghi is also part of the first group of coaches to receive a coaching license from the Confederation of African Football earlier this year.
Before Regraghi’s cohort, African managers who wanted to earn continental coaching badges had to travel to Europe or Asia to acquire those qualifications.
Ahead of the tournament, Cameroon Football Association President Samuel Eto’o made a rather surprising prediction that all five African nations would advance from their groups and the final would be contested between Morocco and Cameroon.
He was ridiculed for this statement, but his tongue-in-cheek comments were about changing the way he views his nation and continent. Regragui made similar comments after Morocco knocked out Spain.
“At some point in Africa we have to be ambitious and why not win the World Cup?” he said.
Eto’o and Regrahi spoke of a much-needed change in the mentality of African countries, who must aspire to compete at the top table, not just participate.
But if the countries are to improve on Africa’s record performance in Qatar 2022 at the next World Cup, where nine African teams will compete, that positive attitude must be maintained.
“I really believe that Africa needs to believe that they can be world champions in the coming years,” Saintfiet said.
“I hope that in 2026, every time we go there, African teams will come to compete with the best, not to participate, but to be world champions.”
While players such as Yassin “Bono” Bounou, Ashraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziech and coach Regraghi are widely credited for Morocco’s historic performance, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF) must also be credited for the success of the Atlas Lions at Qatar 2022.
After decades of football in the middle, the FMRF – with the support of King Mohammed VI – decided to overhaul the country’s football structure.
In 2009, the FMRF opened a national football academy, the Mohamed VI Football Academy, which helped develop current international players such as Nayef Aguerd and Youssef En-Nesryi, as well as trying to discover talent in the Moroccan diaspora by attracting scouts from across Europe. Mention all the eligible young players in Europe.
The federation has also invested in women’s football, developing football in schools and clubs, as well as creating a national league structure.
Sponsored by the FMRF, Morocco is currently the only nation in the world to have two levels of women’s football, both professional.
The crown jewel of Morocco’s football investment is the Mohamed VI Football Complex outside Rabat.
The training complex consists of four five-star hotels, eight FIFA-standard pitches, one of which is in a climate-controlled building, as well as a medical facility that includes a dentist.
That investment, along with a crop of star talent and Africa’s best coach, led Morocco to the World Cup semi-finals.
Going into the next World Cup in 2026, Africa will have at least nine slots compared to Qatar’s five, which could also have a game-changing effect on how Africans play at the World Cup.
But non-qualifying nations such as Algeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt – Algeria and Nigeria – will be keen to build on their success in Qatar if they miss out on Qatar on away goals. examples of five nations that make the continent proud.
Developing its football infrastructure to keep up with its European and South American counterparts, FIFA is helping to develop African men’s and women’s football by investing nearly $600 million over a four-year cycle.
There is still much work to be done, but after decades of African frustration and disappointment on the world stage, Qatar 2022 could be a turning point in turning around the continent’s fortunes and winning the World Cup for one of its teams.