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African teams improve despite missed chances

December 3, 2022

African teams at Qatar 2022 have so far had qualified success, as two teams reached the second round. Could there be a potential first semifinal spot on the cards for one of the continent's teams?

Morocco coach Hoalid Regragui is lifted aloft during a World Cup game
Hoalid Regragui has led Morocco to the second round of the World CupImage: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP

Two of Africa's five representatives reached the second round of the 2022 World Cup, showing some progress after the failure of 2018. Morocco finished top of their group, and Senegal finished second as they both clinched Round of 16 tickets in the final game of the group stage.

It has already been a not-too-shabby tournament as all the African teams grabbed at least a win with homegrown coaches, marking a 26% increase on the number of victories earned in 2018. At the last World Cup, African teams recorded just two victories in 15 matches and none reached the knockout stages. This year, there were seven matches won and Morocco topped Group F ahead of 2018 finalists Croatia and second-ranked Belgium. 

However, there were missed opportunities for the other teams, who all had a chance of going through on the final day of their respective groups.  

Senegal lead the way

Reigning African champions Senegal were expected to lead the way for the African teams at this World Cup, and they did not disappoint. They rallied from their opening defeat to the Netherlands by winning their two other group games against hosts Qatar and Ecuador. Despite the last-minute loss of star Sadio Mane, the Teranga Lions showed that they are a team in the true sense of the word.

Senegal players celebrate
Senegal will meet England in the knockoutsImage: THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS

The last time they reached the knockout stages, Senegal got to the quarterfinals, in 2002, and coach Aliou Cisse hopes to take this team to a place no other African side has reached — the last four. "We raised the flag of Senegal and the flag of Africa," Cisse said after the win against Ecuador.

They next face England in the Round of 16, an opponent with high expectations at this World Cup. "The England players are not better than us," Issa Laye, president of the 12eme Gainde, the Senegalese football supporters' union, told DW. "We are very optimistic that Senegal will go to the final."

Tunisia leave it too late

The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia were eliminated despite picking up four points and defeating world champions France in their final group game. There is a lot of frustration among the Tunisian camp that they let slip an opportunity to make it to the knockout rounds. "We had a big game, a big win, but unfortunately, the loss to Australia cost us this tournament," right back Mohamed Dräger told DW.

Tunisia players celebrate a World Cup win
Tunisia defeated France but were eliminated Image: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Tunisia wanted a better World Cup than the last one, where they won one game but finished third in the group. They picked up four points this time but missed out as Australia nicked a win against Denmark on the final day. "We can only blame ourselves because we didn't do the right thing in the first two matches. It leaves a bitter taste. But I think the Tunisian people are proud of us," said captain Wahbi Khazri, who scored the winner against France.

Morocco are thriving in Doha

Morocco have been the surprise team at this World Cup, where they topped their group ahead of Croatia and left pre-tournament favorites Belgium and Canada eliminated. The Atlas Lions became the first African team to win a group since Nigeria did so in 1998. With incredible support from thousands of Moroccan fans who have flown from Rabat and across Europe, the Lions have roared in Qatar, which feels like home for them.

Their unexpected 2-0 victory against Belgium set the tone for a final group win against Canada to cement their passage into the second round. "Morocco has two wins in this tournament, we had been waiting for so many years for a win, but we have two wins in one tournament. It is great," said coach Hoalid Regragui.

Morocco will take inspiration from this important run ahead of their second-round game against Spain and hope their fairy tale tournament continues. The World Cup deserves to have the lively Moroccan fans who have made the Souq Wakif a nightly party at this tournament.

Ghana fall to Suarez, again

Ghana had waited 12 years to avenge their defeat to Uruguay and Luis Suarez. They needed a draw, and a win would have suited them just fine. But the Black Stars found themselves stuck once again, with Andre Ayew's saved penalty bringing back the painful memories of a night long ago in Johannesburg, when Asamoah Gyan crashed his spot-kick against the crossbar.

Weltmeisterschaft 2022 Katar | Ghana v Uruguay
Andre Ayew's missed penalty brought back memories of Asamoah Gyan's 2010 missImage: Zheng Huansong/Xinhua/IMAGO

There was no coming back from the abyss as their nemesis, Suarez, created two goals for Giorgian de Arrascaeta and confined any vengeance to a future date. There was some consolation for the Ghanaians, who rejoiced when they found out that Suarez would not proceed any further as South Korea picked the other ticket out of the group.

Ghana coach Otto Addo announced his resignation afterwards, leaving his young side without a guide for the time being as the Uruguay hoodoo continues for the West Africans. "For almost 90% cent of the guys, it is our first World Cup. It is a big lesson for myself and a lot of the guys. This will really make us tough and help our progress," midfielder Mohammed Kudus said.

Cameroon roar, but it is too late

The Indomitable Lions defeated Brazil 1-0 in their final group game but qualification was out of their hands as Switzerland defeated Serbia to finish second. Vincent Aboubakar scored the winner before being sent off for a second yellow card after he took off his shirt in celebration, leaving in a blaze of glory.

FIFA Fussball-Weltmeisterschaft Katar 2022 | Gruppe G | Kamerun - Brasilien
Cameroon have a feeling of regret despite Aboubacar's winning goal against BrazilImage: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP

The Lions lost their opening game to Switzerland, something they would regret before their 3-3 draw against Serbia. On the final day, it was out of their hands, as many of Rigobert Song's decisions at this tournament came under scrutiny. Why did he keep his best player Aboubakar on the bench in the first two games, and why was first-choice goalkeeper Andre Onana sent out of the team's camp? "We have a feeling of regret but you need to look on the positive side and I am satisfied with tonight's performance," Song said.

It is another failed attempt for Cameroon at reenacting their magic of 1990. It has been 32 years, but the Lions are yet to awake from their slumber.