On Saturday afternoon, Morocco will be the fourth African country to play in a World Cup quarter-final. The history of African nations in the Football World Cup is a series of missed appointments and cursed extensions.
“I think Cameroon will be world champions in Qatar in a 100% African final against Morocco,” said the president of the Cameroon Federation, Samuel Eto’o, ahead of the tournament. The former Barça player had too high expectations for his country, but he was right about the beautiful Moroccan course. It is already in itself a very fine performance delivered by the Atlas lions, especially given the history of African nations in the World Cup. Until 1990 – we were already in the fourteenth edition of the World Cup at the time – the continent represented practically nothing on the international scene. It was not until 1978 that an African country, Tunisia, obtained a first victory in the World Cup. Before that, only three countries had qualified for the finals: Egypt in 1934, Morocco in 1970 and Zaire in 1974.
Tunisia’s victory against Mexico was followed, four years later, by Algeria’s tremendous success against West Germany. « We will dedicate the seventh goal to our women, the eighth to our dogs », had dared the German newspapers. That says a lot about the perception of African football at the time. Either way, the continent has placed itself on the world football map and things have improved over the years. In 1986, Morocco became the first African country to qualify for the round of 16, where they eventually lost 0-1 to West Germany.
The Indomitable Lions from 1990
The first real sensation of an African country dates back to 1990, in Italy. Cameroon, qualified for the final phase of the World Cup for the second time, surprised everyone by winning their group ahead of Romania, the Argentinian world champions and the Soviet Union. In the round of 16, Roger Milla and his teammates face the Colombia of Carlos Valderrama. After ninety minutes, the scoreboard still shows 0-0 and it is necessary to wait for extra time for the match to settle. Milla scored two goals in three minutes and the reduction in Colombia’s score will remain anecdotal. The Indomitable Lions write a page of history.
But to reach the last four, they must stuff themselves with one of the favorites for final victory: England David Platt, who has just eliminated the Red Devils in the round of 16 and intends to continue its momentum against the Cameroonians. Platt, again him, opens the scoring from the 25the, but a very combative Cameroon came back into the game and then took the lead in the second half. Until the 83e minute and a penalty for England. Gary Lineker equalizes and takes the 22 players into extra time. A rab during which the current presenter of Game of the Day will shatter Cameroonian dreams by converting a second penalty. Africa still has to wait to see one of its own in the semi-finals.
Aliou Cissé sets the example in 2002
It was no surprise that few African countries made it past the group stage. Indeed, until 1990, only two of their representatives were authorized to participate. In 1994, this number increased to three, then from 1998, to five. It has allowed many nations to make their debut on the world stage. We think of Nigeria, which reached the round of 16 in 1994, where it failed in extra time against Italy reduced to ten.
In 2002, it was Senegal who took their first steps in the World Cup. This team, which included in its ranks the current national coach Aliou Cisse, was also the source of inspiration for the current selection which recently lost against England in the round of 16. With Khalilou Fadiga, Henry Camara or the revelation Papa Bouba Diopthem Teranga Lions gave color to the tournament in South Korea and Japan. And this from the first day against France, reigning European and world champions, beaten 0-1.
After two draws against Uruguay and Denmark, Senegal inherited Sweden in the next round. The moment chosen by Henri Camara, top scorer in the history of Senegal until this World Cup, to shine with two goals, synonymous with the first quarter-final for his team. Looking back at all those African quarter-finals, Senegal had perhaps the best playing card, on paper, when they faced Turkey. But once again, the extensions have fatal to Africans: Ilhan Mansiz scored the only goal of the game in the 94e.
The hands of Suárez in 2010
After a half-hearted 2006 World Cup in Germany (four of the five African countries had to pack up from the group stage and only Ghana, starting at this level, reached the round of 16 where they were eliminated by Brazil) , the continent hosted the biggest tournament in the world in 2010 and expectations were understandably high in South Africa.
But again, only Ghana survived the group stage. The Black Stars qualified for the next round in the wake of Germany. In the round of 16, the surprising winner of Pool C, the United States, awaited them. While the score was 1-1 after the first ninety minutes, Asamoah Gyan put on his superhero cape à la 93e minute by scoring the qualifying goal for a historic quarter-final.
The history of this match against Uruguay remains anchored in the memories. Once again, the game had to be extended for thirty minutes. Extensions during which Ghana was very close to winning this first semi-final. Very close is probably an understatement. Indeed, the winning goal was diverted on the line by Luis Suarez… from the hand. The then-Ajax striker was sent off and Ghana were given the chance to secure a place in the last four. It was enough for Gyan to send his penalty into the back of the net. But destiny decided otherwise. Gyan’s shot hit the crossbar, the match was decided on penalties and Uruguay emerged victorious.
Twelve years later, on the occasion of its sixth participation in the World Cup – Cameroon is the only African nation to do better with eight participations – Morocco can relegate this past filled with cursed extra time to oblivion. In any case, this is what an entire continent hopes for.