The World Cup is known for producing a large number of surprises. It gave surprising runs as South Korea reached the semi-finals in 2002, Croatia qualified for the final in 2018, and Morocco qualified for the semi-finals in this year’s competition.
With all the Cinderella games that teams have spun off over the years, it might 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 countries are finally getting more access to facilities and teams located in Europe and South America. Especially in Africa, and as it develops, how long will it be before we see an African hero?
Breaking the semi-final barrier
Morocco is the first African country to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Their unprecedented run saw them qualify from the group ahead of Belgium and then send the heavy hitters to Spain and Portugal in the knockout stage. They are, in fact, only put to the sword by France, who are the -120 favorites to win the outright title. The match was very close and although France weren’t lucky to win it could have gone either way.
Morocco did not play typical defensive football. They may have had a defensive line that sat back and absorbed the pressure, but they broke with skilful players who could take players one-on-one. Defensive and dangerous solidity on the counter, they created valuable opportunities against France. Sofiane Boufal and Hakim dribbled past defenders, while Youssef Al-Nusairi was unlucky not to score.
However, this was not the case for Morocco, despite having more possession of the ball and more shots than their French counterparts. If Morocco had an in-form striker, they could walk away heading into the World Cup Final. This may not have been their day, but Africa’s future is bright.
Development of African players
This is not to say that there were no great African players before; The quality of the best players from Africa has always been very high. George Weah, the incumbent, is the only African player to be awarded the Ballon d’Or after giving a sensational performance for Milan. Jay Jay Okocha was so good they named him twice, Yaya Toure is a Premier League legend, and both Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba have shot their clubs to Champions League glory.
African players have dominated European competition for many years. However, talent is now widely spread and evenly distributed. Superstars like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane now have teammates who can match their level and even raise their game when representing their nation.
The Africa Cup of Nations is one of the most competitive football tournaments in the world. While Africa continues to produce stellar talent, the young players have heroes who look for inspiration and know they can reach that level.
Playing for their heritage nation
The thing that has held back African countries is not only the lack of talent there, but that talent represents other countries in Europe. Teams like France have many players of African descent. There is nothing wrong with that, it is the nation in which they were born 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 acting. Wilfried Zaha chose to represent Côte d’Ivoire, Inaki Williams plays for Ghana, and Riyad Mahrez for Algeria even though they were all born in European countries. Seeing big players like those representing African nations gives hope in the future that others will do the same.
Africa is a growing football powerhouse. They produce many stars, some of them the best in the world. It is only a matter of time before a country from Africa takes the elusive World Cup home.