Even though this iteration of the World Cup stood knee-deep in controversy over human rights issues and corruption, the fact that a country with a population of less than three million would host the prestigious tournament in winter has raised eyebrows, to say the least.
Even days prior to the ball being kicked off, measures taken by Qatari officials to ban alcohol sales near stadiums and in stadiums drew criticism. The competition’s sponsor, Budweiser, reportedly paid USD 70 million.
FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino’s outburst in a lengthy press conference also did not help matters. However, similar to other tournaments, the moment the tournament kicked off, all the issues were put on hold.
After a colorful ceremony, all eyes turned to football. Africa, represented by five countries, including Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, and Ghana, are all led by native coaches.
The 2022 Africa Cup of Nations winners, Senegal, are making their third appearance on the stage after the 2002 and 2018 appearances.
Cameroon is the first country from Africa to participate in the World Cup eight times, followed by Morocco, Nigeria, and Tunisia, who have participated six times. Ghana, Algeria, Senegal, Egypt, South Africa, and the Ivory Coast have participated three times, while Cameroon, Senegal, and Ghana have reached the semi-finals.
Considering the fact that most of the players who play for their national teams play for European clubs, it is expected that there will be at least a quarterfinal appearance by some of the nations.
African nations at the World Cup
The inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 was the only one without any qualification process, and no African teams entered. However, Egypt was the only team to feature in the FIFA World Cup. FIFA organized the first qualification rounds, in which 32 countries competed for 16 places.
The Pharaohs were placed in a group with Turkey and Palestine under the British mandate. Then after, Turkey withdrew, and Egypt beat Palestine 7-1 in Cairo and Jerusalem to qualify for the World Cup finals. The 1934 FIFA World Cup final was organized as a straight knockout.
Egypt lost 4–2 to Hungary in Naples, with Abdulrahman Fawzi scoring twice to become the first African to score at the World Cup finals.
1978: Tunisia becomes the first African team to win at the World Cup
26 African countries entered the qualification process for one spot at the 1978 FIFA World Cup. In comparison, 22 Asia/Oceania countries also competed for one spot, while 31 European countries competed for 8.5 spots.
Les Aigles de Carthage (the Carthage Eagles) of Tunisia eventually qualified, eliminating Morocco in the first-ever penalty shootout in World Cup qualification history.
This was a major change for Tunisia, which had been eliminated by Morocco quite literally by chance on three previous occasions in the 1960s. Tunisia was placed in Group 2 with West Germany, Poland, and Mexico. After Zaire’s fate in 1974, they were not expected to do well.
1986: Morocco becomes the first African team to reach the Round of 16
In 1982, 29 African countries entered the qualification process for two spots at the World Cup. There were four series of knockout rounds, with four Mediterranean countries making the final round.
Algeria defeated neighboring Tunisia 7-1 on aggregate to become the first African team to qualify for the World Cup for the second time in a row. Morocco beat Libya 3–1 on aggregate and also qualified for their second World Cup.
Algeria was placed in Group D with Brazil, Spain, and Northern Ireland. They did not reach the heights of their previous finals appearance, drawing 1–1 with Northern Ireland, losing 0–1 to Brazil, and losing 0–3 to Spain.
Morocco shocked both Poland and England with goalless draws and then defeated Portugal 3–1 to become the first African team to progress beyond the first round.
2002: Senegal reaches the quarterfinals
51 African countries entered the qualification process for five spots at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Four of the five 1998 finalists again made it through, with Les Lions de la Teranga (Teranga Lions) of Senegal replacing Morocco.
Senegal and Morocco topped the same qualification group with four wins, three draws, and a loss each, but Senegal had a seven-goal superior goal difference thanks to their 9–0 aggregate thrashing of group minnows Namibia. In contrast, the Namibians had managed to hold Morocco to a goalless draw in Windhoek.
2010: Ghana reaches the quarterfinals
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was the first time that a World Cup was staged in Africa, with South Africa being the host. Their national team became the first World Cup hosts to get knocked out in the first round.
Nigeria, Algeria, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon also exited the tournament after the group stages.
However, Ghana progressed beyond the group stages of the FIFA World Cup for the second time in a row and defeated the US 2–1 after extra time in the Round of 16, which saw them reach the quarterfinals, becoming the third African nation to do so. In the quarterfinals, they were eliminated by Uruguay.
Ghana was defeated by Uruguay on penalties after Luis Suarez controversially handballed on the goal line deep into extra time, denying Ghana an almost certain winning goal. The penalty that followed was missed by Asamoah Gyan. Had Ghana won their quarterfinal, they would have become the first African nation to progress to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Of the 32 countries that participated in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. FIFA ranked Ghana seventh.
In the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia were eliminated earlier in the first two group games. Nigeria also lost their first group game against Croatia, 2-0.
Another African representative, Senegal, won their opening game against Poland 2-1 and drew their second game against Japan, leaving them needing a draw in their final game against Colombia to be sure of progressing.
However, they went down 0-1, and because Japan lost 0-1 as well, Senegal bowed out due to the fair play tiebreaker.
Which African team will reach the quarterfinals at the Qatar World Cup?
Five African national teams have played their first group-stage match in the Qatar World Cup. They were unable to win the first group stage match, and it is hoped that one of the African national teams will advance to the quarterfinals.
Brazil’s national team, which has competed in all World Cups and is a five-time World Cup winner, is widely expected to win the World Cup in Qatar. The national teams of Portugal, Argentina, Germany, and Spain are other countries that have been predicted to win the Qatar World Cup.
However, the first round of matches produced unexpected results, with Argentina and Germany losing to Saudi Arabia and Japan, respectively, putting a spanner in the works as to which team will lift the coveted trophy.
The competition winner will receive USD 42 million, while the second and third place finishers will receive USD 30 and 27 million, respectively.