What went wrong for the African teams at the World Cup?


For the first time in almost three decades, no African nation will partake in the World Cup round of 16. All five of its contingents crashed out of the Russian party at the group stages.

Pele is unarguably the best footballer of all time. Maradona might not agree with that, though. However, the Brazilian legend isn’t the best at making predictions. Among several wrong guesses, he forecasted long ago that an African team will win the World Cup before the turn of the millennium.

At that time, the continent’s football was enjoying a massive boom. African players, Nigeria in particular, became appealing to top sides. Cameroon set the pace reaching the quarter-finals in 1990. The Super Eagles produced a classy team that nearly equaled that feat, only undone by a late Roberto Baggio winner. At the 1998 tournament, Nigeria came close again but slumped agonisingly at the hands of Denmark.

Four years later in Korea/Japan, it seemed as though Pele’s prophesy would finally come to pass. Senegal showed so much courage in their maiden foray. The Terenga Lions sent the defending champions, France home; stunned Sweden in the next round, only to be beaten by Turkey.

The year 2010 was when everyone thought it would happen with the tournament on African soil. Ghana gave a good account and almost broke the African curse. They were left red-faced by a Luis Suarez handball and Asamoah Gyan’s unpardonable penalty miss against Uruguay.

Four out of five African representatives made the second round in Brazil last time out but all crashed out in a rather shameful manner. All attention was shifted to Russia. Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal and Morocco were sent by the continent. But outrageously, they let themselves and the whole region down.

Egypt was handed the easiest draw on paper, paired with Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and host Russia. The South Americans were perceived as their only match. Add to that Mohamed Salah was in the form of his life, the Pharaohs were expected to at least finish behind Suarez and company. They didn’t, however, returning home without a single point.

Neighbours, Morrocco, meanwhile were very unfortunate throughout the competition. In a tough group that had Spain, Portugal and Asian champions, Iran, the Atlas Lions gave a good account of themselves. Even though they picked up just one point, Herve Renard’s team did well and gave a good fight.

Similar to Morocco, Tunisia faced an absolute ‘mission impossible’ progressing. The Carthage Eagles knew their campaign was all for tourism after drawing Belgium and England. They held on firmly against the latter but were horribly outclassed by Belgium, they proved themselves to be a decent side, beating Panama.

Nigeria and Senegal came closest to reaching the Promised land but didn’t step foot in it. Both nations needed a point in their final group games against South American sides Argentina and Colombia respectively. They both however, stuttered.

Pele would have several regrets about what he’s said in the past and must be regretting prophesying a World Cup triumph for an African team.