Can an African team win the World Cup?

By Euronews
Can Sadio Mane inspire Senegal to World Cup glory?
Can Sadio Mane inspire Senegal to World Cup glory?   -   Copyright  Themba Hadebe/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FOOTBALL NOW is a new show that brings to light some of the global game's biggest issues, challenges, and debates.

The World Cup is an event that brings all the continents of the world together. As far as winning it goes, it's become somewhat of a closed shop. It has been a European or South American nation that has won the previous 21 tournaments. The last four champions have come from the northern hemisphere, giving Europe the edge.

Could 2022 be the year of change? Could an African nation be that change and lift football's biggest prize?

Matthias Schrader/Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
A European team has won every World Cup since 2006Matthias Schrader/Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Frank Leboeuf won the World Cup with France in 1998 - and he believes that one African side competing in Qatar has a realistic chance of going all the way.

Senegal is, for me, one of the favourites of the World Cup. They could go very, very far. I really think that they can win the World Cup.
Frank Leboeuf
French World Cup Winner, 1998

In 2002, France began their title defence with a loss to Senegal, but 20 years later, Leboeuf believes the west African side is even better now than they were back then.

"You are complete when you have Sadio Mane up front and Edouard Mendy at the back and all the players in the middle. And that's why I think it's possible."

Themba Hadebe/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Sadio Mane celebrates Senegal's Africa Cup of Nations triumphThemba Hadebe/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

There is no doubt that African footballers are making an impact at the highest levels of football. Sadio Mane (Senegal), Mohamed Salah (Egypt), and Karim Benzema are currently the frontrunners for the 2022 Ballon d'Or.

Progress is being made. However, history tells us that African teams won't be able to end European/South American dominance anytime soon.

Africa and the World Cup:

1934: Egypt are the first African country to take part

1970: Morocco earns the first point for an African team

1978: Tunisia become the first African team to win a game

1982: Algeria beat West Germany

1986: Morocco progressed to Round of 16

1990: Cameroon reach Quarter-Finals

1994: Roger Milla became the oldest goalscorer, aged 42 years old

2002: Senegal advanced to Quarter-Finals before losing to Turkey

2010: South Africa host World Cup

2014: Two African teams make the Round of 16 (Algeria & Nigeria)

PEDRO UGARTE/AFP
Algeria reached the last 16 in Brazil in 2014PEDRO UGARTE/AFP

For the first time since 1982, no African team made it past the group stages in 2018. However, fast forward to 2022, with just five African nations winning qualification spots - there is less margin for error, even in an expanded 32-team World Cup.

The United States of America, Mexico, and Canada will host the 2026 World Cup and have the most nations competing in history. Forty-eight teams will head to North America. Nine of those will be from Africa, giving them a terrific opportunity to face teams outside the continent, which has become increasingly rare due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

South African broadcaster Fiso Mazibuko believes that although talk of an African team going all the way in Qatar may be premature, it should be a realistic aspiration in the future. "I think we're getting better. We're getting closer. Is it impossible? Nothing's impossible. Leicester City showed us that a few years back, winning the Premier League. We've also seen Zambia winning the Africa Cup of Nations. Anything can happen."

"For African football to progress, we need to empower our own people, and I think, more importantly, trust our own people to get the job done." Mazibuko continued.

African Nations in Qatar

Cameroon

World Cups: 8

Best Performance: Quarter-Finals 1990

Manager: Rigobert Song

Michel Lipchitz/
Cameroon upset the world champions Argentina in the opening game in 1990Michel Lipchitz/

Morocco

World Cups: 6

Best Performance: Second Round (1986)

Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic

Mosa'ab Elshamy/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Morocco will feature in a sixth World Cup later this yearMosa'ab Elshamy/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tunisia

World Cups: 6

Best Performance: Never progressed out of Group Stages

Manager: Jalel Kadri

Hassene Dridi/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Jubilant scenes in Tunisia after they ensured qualification for QatarHassene Dridi/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Ghana

World Cups: 4

Best Performance: Quarter-Finals (2010)

Manager: Otto Addo

Sunday Alamba/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Ghana eliminated Nigeria to claim a place at the World CupSunday Alamba/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Senegal

World Cups: 3

Best Performance: Quarter-Finals (2002)

Manager: Aliou Cisse

Amr Nabil/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Senegal have high hopes for their third appearance at the World CupAmr Nabil/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

On paper, Senegal goes into the World Cup as Africa's least experienced nation, with just two previous World Cup performances. This year they will arrive in Qatar fresh off the back of their African Cup of Nations triumph and a nerve-wracking World Cup Play-Off victory over Egypt. The team impressed in 2002 and 2018 and have lost just twice on the world's biggest stage. In an already memorable year perhaps Africa's new rising power on the football field will save the best for last?