By Abdulrazak Iliyasu Sansani
As the 22nd edition of the FIFA world cup ended, Africa had its best and most memorable performance at the Mundial. This World Cup, the first in the Arab World and only the second to be held in Asia, was so contentious that many football fanatics thought it wouldn’t be possible even when Sepp Blatter-led FIFA awarded it to Qatar. On the 2nd of December 2010, it was announced that Qatar, a tiny but rich gulf nation, would host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Everything is history as it commenced on November 20, 2022, and ended on December 18, 2022.
The 22nd FIFA World Cup edition came with numerous upsets, though World Cup matches are hardly predictable. This World Cup delivered the most in this regard. The FIFA World Cup is football’s flagship tournament, which the first edition was held in Uruguay and started on July 13, 1930. The FIFA world cup has a unique place among sporting events, arguably unrivalled in all sports.
From the first qualification phase, in which 211 member associations were eligible for this edition and 206 participated in the qualification process up to the moment, 32 national teams qualified for football’s showpiece tournament: the most significant single sporting event in the world offers unmatched entertainment, fulfilment, and a lifetime experience.
Over the years, the FIFA world cup created moments eternally engraved in the minds of the approximately 3.5 billion football followers worldwide. From Lucien Laurent scoring the first goal at the world cup, Uruguay winning the inaugural edition of the world cup in 1930, Italy winning it on home soil in 1934, Uruguay silencing the overly expectant crowd at the Maracanã in 1950, Pele making his debut in 1958, Brazil team of 1970 considered by most football experts and supporters as the most outstanding football team ever winning the tournament, cruff losing a World cup final despite his brilliant performance, Maradona taking the game by scruff of the neck in 1986 against England by scoring an infamous first goal and the second arguably the greatest goal ever in the history of the most popular sport in the world, Bahamast’s brave call in 1998 in Norway versus Brazil match; Canavero’s defensive master class in 2006, Messi, a player widely considered as the greatest player of all time winning the World Cup in Qatar to cement his place among the greats, name it, you want sport at its best: you get it at the FIFA world cup throughout its renowned history.
For Africa as a continent: we have a long, difficult, and complicated history at the grandest football competition in the world. Africa began sending representatives to the world cup in 1934. The Pharaohs of Egypt became Africa’s first team at the world cup in its second edition. Since then, Africa has been sending representatives to the FIFA chief tournament. Herein are the nations and the year they debuted at the world cup: 1970 the Atlas Lions of Morocco, 1974 Leopards of DR Congo, 1978 the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia, 1982 the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and the Desert Foxes of Algeria, 1994 the Super Eagles of Nigeria, 1998 Bafana Bafana of South Africa, 2002 the Lions of Taranga, 2006; Black Stars of Ghana, the Elephants of Ivory coast, Giant sable antelopes of Angola, and The Sparrowhawks of Togo. These member associations of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) have participated in the world cup seeking the all-important diadem in 88 years.
The just concluded edition of the world cup produced Africa’s first semi-finalist at the world cup: the Atlas Lions of Morocco. Before this, the best outing in Africa had been going to the quarter-finals on three occasions: Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002, and Ghana in 2010. The Atlas Lions of Morocco, led by Walid Regragui, have shown clearly that Africa can and will one day win the world cup, just as predicted by the legendary Pele some decades ago. Their scintillating world cup campaign in Qatar exemplified what Africa can do when we engage in the right practice and comprehensively develop the sport most Africans are passionate about. Morocco’s historic run was not by chance. No, it wasn’t. It resulted from a considerable investment, a clear blueprint, and masterful implementation.
“The development of football in Morocco is founded on a triangular approach that should form the basis of the development of any system: facilities, talent and qualified personnel,” the Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) president, Fouzi Lekjaa, said.
In 2007 King Mohammed VI decided to change the fortunes of Moroccan football by doing the needful and not just wishful thinking. He didn’t wait for the magic. He did what every African nation that seeks sporting excellence should do. It has taken 15 years since that great investment started, and the Moroccan Football Federation has since proceeded with a series of programmes aimed at improving the overall performances of the North African country in the sport they are crazy about. The results didn’t show overnight, as with most great projects.
However, the football world today celebrates Morocco. Moroccan national teams and clubs have achieved terrific results at almost all levels of football. From the Atlas Lions finishing fourth at the World cup, the lionesses of Atlas playing at their first Women’s African cup of nations final only to be defeated by South Africa, Morocco winning the African Nations Championship (CHAN) against Mali, Wydad Athletic Club winning the CAF Champions League, RS Berkane winning confederation cup, AS FAR clinching the Female CAF Champions League. This is the model for African football to follow. This is the reward for the investment in the beautiful game, technical growth, hard work, patience, and belief in merit.
In a nutshell, we must develop football from the grassroots, create a serene atmosphere for football to thrive, build facilities, employ top-notch tacticians, enhance our leagues, patronise our domestic leagues, upgrade the officiating of matches, and tackle corruption holistically to take Africa to the summit of world football.
Abdulrazak Iliyasu Sansani is a TV producer and presenter of Haske TV Sports, located in Jalingo, Taraba State.