The World Cup is known for throwing up a plethora of surprises. It has given surprise runs like South Korea’s run to the semi-finals in 2002, Croatia’s stomp to the final in 2018, and Morocco’s charge to the semis in this year’s competition.
With all of the Cinderella runs from teams over the years, it may shock some that only two continents have produced World Cup winners: Europe and South America. However, although football has always been the world’s game, other nations are finally getting more access to facilities and teams that have existed in Europe and South America. Particularly in Africa, and with its development, how long will it be before we see an African champion?
Breaking the semi-final barrier
Morocco is the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Their unprecedented run saw them qualify from the group ahead of Belgium and then send home heavy hitters Spain and Portugal in the knockout phase. In fact, France only put them to the sword, who are favorites at -120 in World Cup odds 2022 to win the whole thing. The game was really close, and although France wasn’t fortunate to win, it could have gone either way.
Morocco didn’t play stereotypical defensive football. They may have had a backline that sat and absorbed pressure, but they broke with skillful wide players who could take players one-on-one. Solid defensively and dangerous on the counter, they created valuable chances against France. Sofiane Boufal and Hakim Ziyech were phenomenal at dribbling past defenders, while Youssef En-Nesyri was unlucky not to score.
However, it wasn’t to be for Morocco, even though they had more possession and shots than their French counterparts. If Morocco had an in-form striker, they could have walked away heading into a World Cup final. It may not have been their day, but Africa’s future is bright.
Development of African players
It’s not to say there haven’t been great African players before; the quality of top players from Africa has always been very high. George Weah, the current president of Liberia, is the only African player to pick up the Ballon d’Or after performing sensational performances for AC Milan. Jay-Jay Okocha was so good they named him twice, Yaya Touré is a Premier League legend, and Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba both fired their clubs to Champions League glory.
African players have been dominating European competition for many years. However, the talent is now vastly spread and evenly distributed. Shining superstars like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané now have teammates up to their level and even lift their play when representing their nation.
The African Cup of Nations is one of the planet’s most tightly contested football tournaments. As Africa keeps producing star talent, younger players have heroes to look to for inspiration and know they can reach that level.
Playing for their nation of heritage
Something that has hindered African nations isn’t just that there isn’t talent there, but that talent is representing other nations in Europe. Teams like France have several players with African heritage. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s the nation they were born in or have the most affiliation with, but due to many factors, their parents or grandparents moved to a European country.
However, more and more players are now representing the nation of their heritage. Wilfred Zaha chose to represent Côte d’Ivoire, Iñaki Williams plays for Ghana, and Riyad Mahrez for Algeria despite all of them being born in European countries. Seeing top players like those representing African nations gives hope for the future that others will do the same.
Africa is a growing footballing powerhouse. They are producing numerous star players, with some being the best in the world. It’s only a matter of time before a nation from Africa captures the elusive World Cup.