Africa-Press – Cape verde. As the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is about to begin, Sputnik recalls the history of Africa’s participation in the planet’s biggest football event since its inception.
The FIFA World Cup has been taking place regularly since 1930 – with the only exception of the troubled 1940s. However, for many years the competition was not a World Cup in the fullest sense. Until a change was made shortly before the beginning of the new millennium, Africa’s World Cup story was associated with scandals, boycotts, cancellations – and only a handful of countries. The 1930s: Egypt as Pioneer
The inaugural FIFA World Cup took place in 1930 in Uruguay. It was the only championship of the kind to have no qualification process, meaning any nation could apply to the finals – however, no teams from Africa or Asia entered the tournament. It was just the second World Cup in 1934 in Italy when the first African team applied to the competition. It was Egypt’s Pharaohs who met the Hungarian team in the first match. At that time, the tournament consisted only of the knock-out stage.
The match ended 4–2 to Hungary, with Abdulrahman Fawzi’s brace making him the first African player to score at the World Cup finals. The proclaimed Hungarian victory was met with backlash by the Italian media due to issues concerning the refereeing.
The Italian referee Renaldo Balrassina ruled offside a third goal by Fawzi, who in fact had dribbled from the middle of the pitch. At the same time, the fourth Hungarian goal was deemed controversial – the Egyptian goalkeeper said that he had caught the ball, after which the Hungarian hit him in the chest with his knees, broke his nose with his elbow, and even pushed him behind the goal line.
The Pharaohs sailed home and did not return to the World Cup for 56 years. They applied for participation in the 1938 tournament in France, but withdrew due to a qualification match being assigned on a day during the holy month of Ramadan. That was the last championship before a 12-year-long hiatus caused by World War II.
1950–1966: Still Without Africa
The year 1950 brought the World Cup back, but not African teams’ participation. Throughout the 1950s and the 1960s, either no African states applied for participation or no teams passed the qualification rounds. In 1958, Egypt and Sudan withdrew after having to face Israel in qualification matches.
The two decades were a period of active decolonization. In 1960 alone, dubbed the Year of Africa, 17 new countries were created on the continent. However, the teams of the newly born states did not reach the World Cup until 1970, due to several reasons. For instance, in 1966, 16 African countries applied for the qualification process.
These were Algeria, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, and Tunisia. FIFA dismissed the Congo’s application and disqualified South Africa in protest against the apartheid regime.
The main concern, however, was the allocation of only one place in the tournament to three continents – Africa, Asia, and Oceania, despite a rise in applications from the young African countries. This led to the voluntary withdrawal of the remaining 14 African teams, who objected to the association’s decision.
1970–1990: The Dawn
The 1970 cup qualification round was entered by 14 African countries, among which was Rhodesia, previously expelled from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for being under white minority rule.
FIFA also banned qualification matches in Rhodesia, which led to the country’s team playing in Mozambique, against Australia. The first two matches ended in draws, largely due to the skill of Rhodesian goalkeeper Robin Jordan. According to Australian journalist Dennis Gedling, author of the book “Top 100 World Cup Moments (from the Aussie Point of View),” Australia won 3–1 only after the team hired a local sangoma – a witch doctor – to “curse” the opponents. Eventually, the Australians were knocked out by Israel – two weeks after refusing to pay the sangoma.
The World Cup itself, which took place in Mexico, was marked by the final return of Africa, this time represented by Morocco. The country’s team performed with little success, ending up in fourth place in the group with West Germany, Peru, and Bulgaria. However, Houmane Jarir and Maouhoub Ghazouani managed to become the second and third African players to score at the World Cup.
Zaire was the only African country to qualify for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. For this, according to the team’s defender Mwepu Ilunga, the Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seco awarded each player with a house and a car, but after the team lost 2–0 to Scotland and 9–0 to Yugoslavia, he said they should not come home if they lost 4–0 or worse to the 1970 champion Brazil. The team returned to Zaire eventually, after losing 3–0.
Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles represented Africa at the 1978 tournament in Argentina. They did not leave the group, but became the first African team to win a match at the World Cup after a 3–1 victory over Mexico.
The year 1982 brought several changes. The World Cup, which took place in Spain, was the first to feature 24 teams, and the African quota was finally enlarged to two places that were taken by Algeria and Cameroon. The latter drew three times before being eliminated by Italy due to goal difference – attributed to a wrongly ruled offside. Algeria became the first African team to win two matches at the World Cup after defeating West Germany and Chile, but were also knocked out on goal difference, which was assured by group matches not being held simultaneously (which at that point was in accordance to the FIFA rules).
In 1986, Algeria and Morocco represented Africa at the tournament in Mexico. While Algeria performed worse than in 1982, Morocco managed to become the first African team to reach the play off at the world tournament. They were eliminated by West Germany in the 1/16.
The qualification matches for the 1990 World Cup in Italy were marked by a tragedy – 24-year-old Nigerian midfielder Samuel Okwaraji died of heart failure on the field.
During the world tournament finals, the Cameroonian team, nicknamed the Indomitable Lions, reached the quarter finals for the first time in the history of African football. The second African team that played was Egypt, which finally made its return to the World Cup. However, they did not win a single match.
An extra place for an African team was added during the qualifications for the 1994 cup. Nearly the entire Zambian team that was to participate died in a plane crash before their first game. The exceptions were two Europe-based players. The team, which was refilled in a month, won a qualification match against Morocco and later became the 1994 champions of Africa.
Cameroon, Morocco, and Nigeria were the African countries that took part in the 1994 World Cup finals. Morocco and Cameroon did not manage to leave their groups. The latter left the tournament after losing 1–6 in a match with Russia, where the 42-year-old Cameroonian Roger Milla became the oldest man to score at the World Cup and Russia’s Oleg Salenko scored five goals.
The Nigerian team reached the round of 16, defeating Bulgaria (which later reached the semi-finals) 3–0, losing 1–2 to Argentina, and then beating Greece 2–0 before being eliminated by Italy, to whom the Nigerians lost 1–0 in the knockout stage. Since 1998: Nowadays
Since 1998, Africa has been represented by five or more teams at each World Cup. This happened for the first time in France, with the national teams of Morocco, Cameroon, South Africa (which became a FIFA member again in 1992), Nigeria, and Tunisia participating. For the second time in a row, Nigeria reached the play-offs, leaving Spain and Bulgaria behind before being knocked out by Denmark.
Four years later, in South Korea and Japan, the Senegalese team replaced Morocco among those who represented Africa in 1998 and managed to repeat Cameroon’s 1990 success, reaching the quarter finals. The Senegalese, nicknamed the Lions of Teranga (with “Teranga” meaning the traditional Senegalese way of life, which involves sharing and hospitality), left former champions France and Uruguay behind in the group stage, then defeated Sweden in the 1/16 (thanks to a “golden goal” by Henri Camara in extra time), before eventually losing to Turkey.
In 2006, the World Cup was held in Germany. Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Tunisia took part at the championship. Ghana’s Black Stars, who were playing at the world tournament for the first time, left the group after defeating the Czech Republic and the US and losing only to Italy – the future champions. In the round of 16, Ghana lost 3–0 to Brazil.
In 2010, the world tournament was held in Africa for the first time. Along with South Africa, which hosted matches in nine cities, with the final being staged in Johannesburg, the standings included Algeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria.
South Africa, Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria were knocked out in the group stage. Ghana, however, surpassed itself by reaching the play-offs again and this time defeating the US in the 1/16 before being eliminated by Uruguay in the 1/4.
The same African teams as in 2010 – except for South Africa – represented the continent in 2014 in Brazil. Algeria and Nigeria set a new record for Africa – this was the first time when two African nations reached the World Cup play-offs. Algeria and Nigeria were knocked out in the round of 16 by France and Germany respectively.
The World Cup held in 2018 in Russia involved Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, and Tunisia, none of which – for the first time in 36 years – reached the second round.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup is coming in two days. It will be held in Qatar and is history’s first tournament of the kind to take place in a Middle Eastern country. The African teams that will take part are Senegal, Morocco, Ghana, Cameroon, and Tunisia.
Senegal is the current champion of Africa and has the highest winning probability among the African teams, as estimated by sport analysts. Ghana’s Black Stars and Morocco’s Atlas Lions follow the Lions of Teranga in the ratings of probable winners from Africa.