Whilst African presence at the FIFA World Cup has been marked by increasing success over the years, on paper it looks unlikely the 2018 World Cup will see African sides improve on past performances. However, the capacity for African sides, including this tournament’s participants, to defy the odds should never be underestimated.
Africa’s participation in the FIFA World Cup began with Egypt’s participation in the 1934 World Cup but no African side took part in any further tournaments until 1970. Five African sides will be at the World Cup tournament in Russia, a reflection of how world football has changed since 1966 when FIFA allocated just one place to three continents (Africa, Asia and Oceania) and fifteen African nations withdrew in protest.
Africa’s success at the tournament has gradually increased, and African teams have been remarkably unfortunate not to have got further than the quarter-finals. Morocco, one of the 2018 qualifiers, were the first African team to score at the World Cup when Houmane Jarr scored against West Germany in the 1970 World Cup.
Zaire were sole African qualifiers in 1974 and failed to cover themselves in glory, losing 2-0 to Scotland, 9-0 to Yugoslavia but then managing to keep the goals conceded to three against Brazil after their countries president had told them not to return home if they conceded four.
In 1978, Tunisia, another of the 2018 qualifiers, became the first African team to win at the World Cup when they beat Mexico 3-1.
1982 saw both Algeria and Cameroon at the World Cup, with Cameroon unlucky to go out on goals scored after three draws. Algeria won two games in their group, beating West Germany and Chile but failed to progress after a shameful performance by West Germany and Austria who went into the final game knowing a 1-0 or 2-0 to Germany would see both teams go through. The outrage over the lack of effort shown by the two sides after Germany went ahead led to one German commentator abandon his commentary and an Austrian commentator to tell viewers to switch off their TV sets. Following this farcical game, the rules were changed so that the final two games in each group have ever since been played simultaneously.
In 1986 Morocco became the first African side to make the Round of 16 and were then only knocked out by a Lothar Matthaus goal in the 87th minute, with the West Germans going on to reach the final.
In 1990, Cameroon, with Roger Mila as their key player, became the first African side to reach the quarter-finals , beating Argentina, Romania, Colombia on the way. Only a late penalty for England denied the Indomitable Lions a passage to the semi-finals and they went out on a 3-2 scoreline after extra time.
In 1994 and 1998 Nigeria made it to the Round of 16. In 1994, an 88th minute goal by Italy’s Roberto Baggio took the game to extra time to halt Nigeria’s progress to the semi-final. In 1998, they were knocked out by Denmark.
In 2002, Senegal reached the quarter finals after progressing from their group at the expense of France and Uruguay and then beating Sweden in the Round of 16. They were eliminated by Turkey by a golden goal in extra time.
In 2006 Ghana were knocked out in the round of 16 by Brazil but they became the first African team to reach the quarter-finals in 2010 when they were only knocked out due to a handball off the line late into extra time by Luis Suarez, a subsequent missed penalty and then a loss on penalties.
2014 saw two African sides through the group stages for the first time – with both Algeria and Nigeria making it to the Round of 16 where they were beaten by Germany and France respectively.
Turning to the the African countries which have qualified for Russia. Betway has expanded and is now taking bets in South Africa and their latest odds illustrate the hurdles facing the African sides following the World Cup draw in Moscow.
Odds for an outright win:
To win Group
However, there are reasons for optimism. The African Football Federations appear to have learnt from past mistakes and have been putting in place agreed bonus structures with players and professional preparations. These efforts will be strengthened by CAF which agreed last week to offer the African teams £500,000 to improve the technical supervision.
Whilst Tunisia are likely to struggle in their group, Morocco, who have been drawn in a relatively easy group, are led by the charismatic Herve Renard and didn’t concede a single goal during qualification.
Egypt and Senegal have world class players in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah who can change any game.
Finally, Nigeria, drawn in a difficult group, are continuing to improve under Gernot Rohr and recently beat Argentina 2-4 in Krasnodar.