An African team has never made the last four of the World Cup but will things change in Qatar? A former World Cup winner tells us why it's possible.
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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?
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.
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."
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)
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
World Cups: 8
Best Performance: Quarter-Finals 1990
Manager: Rigobert Song
World Cups: 6
Best Performance: Second Round (1986)
Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic
World Cups: 6
Best Performance: Never progressed out of Group Stages
Manager: Jalel Kadri
World Cups: 4
Best Performance: Quarter-Finals (2010)
Manager: Otto Addo
World Cups: 3
Best Performance: Quarter-Finals (2002)
Manager: Aliou Cisse
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?