World Cup 2022: Six things Africa learned at historic finals

Published on: 20 December 2022

After a slow start to Qatar 2022, Africa's five representatives delivered the continent's finest World Cup in history.

A record seven wins in the group stage - with all five sides winning at least one game - was enough to propel two teams, Morocco and African champions Senegal, to the knockout phase for only the second time, and first since 2014.

The Atlas Lions added icing to the cake by becoming the first African side to reach the semi-finals, ultimately undone by 2018 champions France.

After suffering its worst World Cup just four years ago, when Africa failed to reach the second round for the first time since 1982, the continent has rebounded in spectacular fashion.

"I'm delighted with the standard of African football because for many decades now, we've been talking about the development of African football and when their time will come - I think their time has come," said Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

So what exactly did the continent learn from Qatar 2022?

  • 'The Miracle of Morocco'

Sofyan Amrabat

Morocco's Sofyan Amrabat was one of the players of the tournament with his unending energy in midfield

It was the African story of the World Cup - unfancied Morocco nearly going all the way. They topped their group, beating Belgium and Canada before dispatching Spain and Portugal to finally reach the last four.

Appointed in August, Coach Walid Regragui recalled outcasts, brought in youngsters and nurtured a spirit that made the Atlas Lions one of the top four teams in the world.

"We are much more of a family, more of a club side than a national team," said Regragui. "I think that's what's given us this great strength."

"The whole world is proud of this Moroccan team. We showed desire, played hard and have given a good image of Morocco and African football."

Prior to Morocco's sensational run, Africa - which officially finished fourth - had never gone past the quarter-finals, with only Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) having reached that stage before.

  • Door ever wider for female officials

Rwandan official Salima Mukansanga and France forward Kylian Mbappe

Salima Mukansanga - the first female fourth official in World Cup history - ushers on Kylian Mbappe during France's shock loss to Tunisia

For the first time in World Cup history, three women were among the 36 selected for the elite group of referees with three more acting as assistant referees.

Rwanda's Salima Mukansanga, Stephanie Frappart of France and Japan's Yoshimi Yamashita were the refereeing trailblazers, even if only Frappart made history when officiating a game in Qatar from the middle.

Nonetheless, Mukansanga achieved her own piece of history when becoming the first female fourth official at a men's World Cup in France's 4-1 defeat of Australia, prior to handling three more games, two of which included Tunisia.

Having been the first woman to referee a men's Africa Cup of Nations clash in January, the 34-year-old's elevation provides yet further inspiration for the next generation of African officials, with Fifa saying it is selecting the best referees regardless of gender.

"It means you're going to open the doors for other women, especially in Africa,' said Mukansanga.

"The opportunities are there - it's up to us to take them."

  • Africa is slaying giants again

Vincent Aboubakar of Cameroon

Vincent Aboubakar exited Qatar in sensational style, scoring the goal that beat Brazil before ruefully smiling at his red card for taking his shirt off in celebration

Africa is no stranger to sinking defending champions, with Cameroon and Senegal beating Argentina and France in 1990 and 2002 respectively, but it had been some 20 years since such a feat.

On this occasion, Tunisia ensured their early elimination finished on a high after stunning a weakened French side thanks to veteran Wabhi Khazri's strike.

"Of course we are disappointed to be going out - because we didn't do enough in the first two matches - but we have made the Tunisian people proud," the Tunisia captain said afterwards.

This seismic shock was soon followed by another as Cameroon became the first African side to ever beat five-time champions, and tournament favourites, Brazil at the World Cup.

Vincent Aboubakar's 93rd-minute goal was not enough to keep the Indomitable Lions in Qatar, as with the Tunisians, but he delivered a weighty punch about the state of the African game.

"I didn't even realise it was such a historic victory," admitted coach Rigobert Song. "My players should be congratulated and they've shown they could have done better. We are going to keep working to improve."

  • 'Home support' in the Middle East

Morocco football fans hold a replica World Cup trophy in Qatar

Moroccan fans hold up a replica of the World Cup during their historic Qatar 2022 campaign

The continent's North African teams enjoyed massive support in Qatar, where there are sizeable Moroccan and Tunisian communities already, with the fans making a real difference to their team's fortunes.

After Tunisia's opening game - a hard-fought and gutsy 0-0 draw with Denmark - coach Jalel Kadri was appreciative of the tumultuous backing.

"The fan factor was very positive for us, it mentally gave us a great lift," he said.

Nonetheless, it was ultimately Morocco's supporters who made the biggest impression and who were, behind champions Argentina's legions of fans, the second-best followed.

Tens of thousands joyously descended on Qatar as the Atlas Lions roamed further in the World Cup than any African or Arab side before.

"This is a night I'm going to tell my children and grandchildren about," supporter Soufiane Megrini, who had just witnessed the quarter-final win over Portugal, told the BBC.

  • Ghana recruitment yet to bear fruit

Mohamed Salisu

New Ghana defender Mohammed Salisu scores in the Black Stars' 3-2 win over South Korea, the 2010 quarter-finalists' sole win in Qatar

Ghana squeaked into the tournament with an away goals win over Nigeria in the World Cup play-offs but it was clear they needed more quality ahead of the World Cup itself.

So alongside technical director Chris Hughton, they set about persuading players with Ghana heritage to join the project - with defenders Mohammed Salisu and Tariq Lamptey and forward Inaki Williams among those coming in.

Recruiting players with dual nationality after World Cup qualification itself raised questions in Ghana both before and after the finals, especially with the Black Stars exiting in the group stages - even if they did at least gain revenge on their 2010 foes when helping knock out Uruguay.

"Football is beautiful, sometimes it is ugly - it was ugly for us today," said coach Otto Addo after the costly loss. "I'm very sure we will learn from this."

Yet Addo soon resigned, leaving behind a World Cup squad built for the future with 12 players aged 23 or under - including Brighton and Hove Albion's Lamptey and Bristol City forward Antoine Semenyo.

There is none finer however than one of Africa's outstanding youngsters - Mohammed Kudus, 22 - with the attacking midfielder's class shining through and resulting in two goals in Ghana's solitary win.

  • African champions' costly lack of depth

Senegalese players celebrate Ismaila Sarr's penalty strike against Ecuador

Senegal celebrate Ismaila Sarr's penalty strike against Ecuador

Senegal were dealt a massive blow when star striker Sadio Mane - named the world's second-best footballer two months ago - had to withdraw on the eve of the finals through injury.

It handcuffed Aliou Cisse's carefully-laid plans, since the coach clearly had no replacement anywhere near the same level - despite the best efforts of Ismaila Sarr, who scored twice, Bouna Dia and Iliman Ndiaye, who is one to watch.

The final group game win over Ecuador secured a second knockout appearance twenty years after their first but without Everton's Idrissa Gana Gueye, who was suspended, and fellow midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate, injured in the group stage, the Teranga Lions struggled to contain England and crashed out.

"In all countries in Africa, there is a real sports policy in place," said Cisse after the Round of 16 exit. "We have to keep that up if we want to win these tournaments."

Having gone further than ever, the continental confidence collected in Qatar has prompted Morocco's inspirational coach Walid Regragui to say a first African title is less than two decades away.

Source: BBC Africa