After Cameroon made the quarter-finals in 1990, footballing great Pelé made the prediction that, by the year, 2000, an African team would win the World Cup.
That still has not happened for a variety of reasons, but, on Saturday, Morocco will have the chance to create a piece of history. If they can beat Portugal, they will become the first team from the continent to reach a World Cup semi-final.
Why no African team has won the World Cup?
There are a myriad of reasons why no African team has won the World Cup.
African nations tend to be among the poorest on the planet, which means they have fewer resources and less money to invest in infrastructure like pitches, academies and coaches. It also means that they are subject to a talent drain, with the best young players leaving for Europe at an early age, many of them going to represent their new naturalised nation.
There is also a lack of professionalism in local football associations – many lack a long-term strategy a1nd vision, whilst government interference in how football is run is rife in some countries, and, unfortunately, so is corruption.
The odds are also stacked against them. Africa began with just five teams in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, as opposed to 13 from Europe. One of the reasons why the World Cup is being expanded to 48 teams in 2026 is to give regions like Africa greater representation.
Some former players have also suggested that there may be an issue with psyche, and, apart from those who may be playing in competitions like the Champions League with their clubs, Africans do not have the experience of playing regularly in high pressure games, and are unable to cope when a tournament like the World Cup reaches the business end of proceedings.
Nevertheless, three African teams have previously reached the quarter-finals.
The first to do were Cameroon, who famously defeated the Argentina in their opening game and eventually reached the quarter-finals where they played England, A goal down at half-time, they hit back to lead and to lose to two late Gary Lineker penalties.
Senegal made a name for themselves in 2002 by beating the defending champions France in the group stage, and becoming the first African nation to qualify from their group undefeated.
They then beat Sweden after extra time in the round of 16, but that win took a lot out of them physically, and they lost to Turkey, again after extra time, courtesy of a golden goal.
Arguably the closest African side to breaking their World Cup hoodoo was Ghana in 2010, the first time that the continent hosted the tournament.
They managed to qualify second from a group that also contained Germany, and then beat the United States in the round of 16 to set up a last eight meeting with Uruguay.
Ghana took the lead, Uruguay equalised, but, with no further scoring the match headed into extra time. With penalties looming, Ghana won a free kick, from which Dominic Adiyiah’s header was goal-bound only for Uruguay forward Luis Suārez to punch the ball off the line.
Suārez was sent off, but Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty and Uruguay went on to win the resulting shoot-out. Even today, Ghana fans have never forgiven Suārez, and there was a great deal of schadenfreude following the match between the two at this World Cup.
Will it be any different for Morocco?
This is only the second time in their history that Morocco have been beyond the group stage of a World Cup, the other occasion being in 1986 when they were knocked out in the round of 16.
However, they should not be overawed going into the match with Portugal.
They came into the 2022 Qatar World Cup with one of the best defensive records of all the teams in Qatar, and, so far, they have conceded just once, and that was an own goal against Canada.
In the group stages, they beat Belgium, the number two ranked team in the world on the eve of the competition and held Spain to a goalless draw after extra time in their knock-out game before beating them on penalties, Yassine Bounou saving all three of the spot kicks he faced.
Fittingly, the first time that the Middle East have staged the tournament, they have become the first Arab nation to do so well at a World Cup. But now they have a real chance of creating another piece of history on Saturday.
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