In any major competition, surprises, and unexpected results contribute to a much more charming picture. The World Cup in Qatar was no exception. It also had national teams that surpassed themselves, overturned all predictions, that recorded results that will be reminisced years from now, maybe even decades from now. Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina, Japan secured wins against Germany and Spain, and Morocco surprised Belgium to finish 1st in a group that also included Croatia. All these three nations also battled for the unofficial title of the revelation of the 2022 World Cup. In the end, it was won by the representative of Africa, who managed to extend her dream at least until the quarter-finals.
Morocco produced the shock of the round of 16, by beating Spain in the penalty shoot-out, with a score of 3-0. Thus, it also became the first African nation to win on penalties at a World Cup and the fourth to enter the top eight in the world. And because the excitement is at home, Walid Regragui’s side are looking to set another first in football history, to become the first team from the African continent to qualify for the semi-finals.
Can an African team reach the semi-finals of the World Cup?
Before the last finals tournaments one of the most asked questions was something like: “Can an African team reach the semi-finals of the World Cup?”. Promises and talent have been around for the past 30 years. Shortly before the start in Qatar, Senegal was seen as a potential team to make it, but they lost star player Sadio Mane in Bayern’s last official game to injury, so the team’s strength has decreased. However, Morocco appeared, a team that has played with a lot of enthusiasm so far and also had strong support from the stands. So, Africa once again has a team in the quarter-finals and another chance to rewrite the continent’s history at the World Cup.
Cameroon opened the way to the quarter-finals
The first team to reach the quarter-finals was Cameroon in 1990. The “Untamed Lions” were the big surprises of Italia 90, with wins against title holders Argentina, Romania, and Colombia. They then also became the first African team to win three matches at a World Cup. Cameroon were 6 minutes away from qualifying for the semi-finals, but England equalized in the 84th minute through Lineker from penalty. The Europeans then won after extra time, 3-2. That performance was expected to herald a new era of achievement, it also turned Africa into a power to be reckoned with. It also seemed to vindicate Pele’s claim that an African team would win the World Cup by 2000. That didn’t happen, but two other nations made a spectacular run up until at Morocco in 2022.
Senegal was the second team from Africa in the quarter-finals
In 2002, Senegal defeated reigning champions France (1-0), becoming the first African team to go unbeaten through a World Cup group stage. They also drew them with Denmark and Uruguay. In the round of 16, Bruno Metsu’s team also got past Sweden with Henri Camara’s Golden Goal (score 2-1), before being eliminated by Turkey in the quarterfinals, also in extra time (0-1).
Ghana blocked by Luis Suarez’s handball
In 2010 it was Ghana’s turn to make a splash at the final tournament held in South Africa. The Black Stars played organised, disciplined football and after wins over Serbia and the USA came within a minute of a place in the semi-finals. In the quarter-final match against Uruguay, Ghana had a penalty in the last minute of extra time after Luis Suarez used his hand to stop a 2-1 goal. However, Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty on which he wrote the semi-finals, and in the penalty shoot-out that followed, Uruguay won. Luis Suarez then said he would repeat the gesture of stopping the ball with his hand if it meant success for Uruguay.
Morocco did not concede a goal against Croatia, Belgium and Spain
In Qatar, Morocco opened with a 0-0 draw against Croatia before recording a stunning 2-0 win over FIFA’s second-ranked Belgium. He won Group F after beating Canada 2-1. Few gave him a chance in the round of 16 with Spain, but the match went to penalties 0-0 after 120 minutes, and here goalkeeper Yassine Bounou became the hero with two saves. Achraf Hakimi scored the decisive goal with a panenka.
Since the World Cup was inaugurated in 1930, 13 African nations have qualified for the competition and 9 have reached the round of 16. Now there are four who have qualified for the quarter-finals, and in a few days we will also know if we will have the first semi-finalist from Africa. The final hurdle is Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.