Morocco: what to expect from the other semifinal crossing 3:59
Following the first round of World Cup matches in Qatar, African soccer fans were met with an all-too-familiar script.
Five games played, three losses, two draws and only Ghana, defeated by Portugal, put the ball into the back of the net.
Another disappointing tournament seemed to come for the continent that Pele, a three-time world champion, once declared he would "win the World Cup before the year 2000."
That appointment followed Zaire's humiliating performance in the 1974 World Cup group stage, which included a 9-0 loss to Yugoslavia.
Zaire was the first sub-Saharan nation to participate in the men's World Cup.
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But in Qatar, the picture changed: every team on the continent won a match in their group for the first time in history, two teams made it past the group stage — a joint record — and Morocco will become the first African team to play a match. semifinal.
Play a World Cup "at home"
Against the backdrop of a tournament that seems increasingly defined by politics and global corporations, African countries have brought passion to Qatar 2022 and have brought great pride to their nations.
The incredible skill and color of the famous Senegalese fan group 12eme Gainde never failed to draw the attention of TV broadcast directors, while the Ghanaian and Cameroonian contingent of supporters provided a rhythmic soundscape resembling a rousing film soundtrack. every time those two teams played.
Senegal's captain, Kalidou Koulibaly, scored the goal that qualified his country for the round of 16.
(Photo: Leah Abucayan/Getty)
But not even the sub-Saharan countries have been able to match the cacophony that the Moroccan and Tunisian fans have brought to this World Cup: every clearance was greeted with vociferous cheers, every touch from the opponent was booed and whistled relentlessly.
None of this would have been possible if Qatar had not hosted the World Cup.
Doha has long been a travel hub not only in Asia, but also in Africa.
So much so that traveling to Doha has been easier for most fans than in 2010, when the tournament was held on African soil.
A Google search shows that flying from Douala to Doha is cheaper than to Johannesburg.
The cheapest route from Casablanca to Johannesburg is to fly via Doha.
But it is not only the most affordable World Cup for Africans, but also the most accessible.
Qatar has made it easier for African fans to obtain visas than any other World Cup host, says Francis Nkwain, a Cameroonian soccer expert and media executive.
"The obstacles that [Africans] have to go through to access other parts of the world are sorely underestimated," Nkwain told CNN Sport.
Mohamed Kudus was Ghana's big star at the World Cup, scoring twice against South Korea.
"Getting visas was a big challenge for Russia. It was a very big challenge for Brazil [in 2014]."
This accessibility should not be underestimated, which helps turn neutral matches into "home" matches, especially for North African countries, which can count on the support of all of Africa and the Arab world, something that Morocco coach Walid Regragui, has been quick to admit.
"Before, only the Moroccans supported us," he declared before the victory against Spain.
"Now it's the Africans and the Arabs."
Not in vain, the African nations are the ones that have offered the best performance in this World Cup since the tournament was held in South Africa, responding to the pride and passion of their followers.
No more "plumbers"
For decades, Africa has produced some of the best players in the game, but that hasn't always been the case for the continent's coaches.
The lack of infrastructure for the development of coaches, together with the few opportunities that have been offered to them at the highest level, has meant that African nations have historically been led in most cases by European coaches.
In African football circles, these managers are often unflatteringly referred to as "plumbers".
But the trend for African nations to employ foreign coaches is changing.
Belgium coach Tom Saintfiet, who earlier this year coached debutant Gambia to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, says this development is to be celebrated.
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"The biggest advantage is that now African teams don't choose big-name and expensive coaches," Saintfiet told CNN Sport.
"I think that was a big mistake from the past, where in 2010... coaches like [Lars] Lagerbäck and Sven-Göran Eriksson... came to Africa without any experience in African football."
For the first time in history, the five African countries present at the World Cup were coached by nationals of their own country, and all achieved some success to a greater or lesser extent.
The most successful is Regragui, who is at the forefront of a coaching revolution in Africa that is seeing former players take over coaching roles.
Affectionately nicknamed "Rass l'Avocat" (avocado head) for his bald pate, Regragui has succeeded everywhere he has worked.
He led a mid-table Moroccan club, FUS Rabat, to the only league title in its history, winning the Qatar Stars League with Al Duhail, before returning to his country to win the league and league double Champions League with Wydad Casablanca, when Regragui became the second Moroccan coach to win the continental title for African clubs.
More importantly, Regragui is also part of the first cohort of coaches to receive their professional coaching license from the Confederation of African Football earlier this year.
Before Regragui's cohort, any African coach wanting a continental coaching license would have had to travel to Europe or Asia to obtain it.
A change of mind
Ahead of the tournament, Samuel Eto'o, president of the Cameroonian Football Association, made a rather far-fetched prediction that all five African countries would top their groups and the final would be between Morocco and Cameroon.
He was heavily ridiculed for that statement, but his tongue-in-cheek comments had more to do with changing the way his nation and continent see themselves.
Regragui made similar comments after Morocco eliminated Spain.
"At some point in Africa we have to be ambitious and why not win the World Cup?"
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Eto'o and Regragui speak of a much-needed change in the mentality of African countries, which must aspire not only to participate, but also to compete in the highest competition.
But if countries want to improve on Africa's record-breaking performance during Qatar 2022 at the upcoming World Cup, which will see nine African teams compete, they will need to keep that positive mindset.
"I really think that Africa has to believe in the fact that in the next few years it can have a world champion," Saintfiet agrees.
"I hope that it happens in 2026, that more and more African teams come there not to be participants, but to compete with the best to be world champions."
Morocco in the lead
While the likes of Yassine "Bono" Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Hakim Ziyech and coach Regragui will take most of the credit for Morocco's historic performance, the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FMRF) must also be credited for the success of the Atlas Lions in Qatar 2022.
After decades of football mediocrity, the FMRF, with the backing of King Mohammed VI, decided to reform the country's football structure.
In 2009, the FMRF inaugurated its national football academy, the Mohamed VI Football Academy, which has helped train current international players such as Nayef Aguerd and Youssef En-Nesryi, as well as trying to discover talent in the Moroccan diaspora by employing scouts from all over the world. Europe to mark any eligible youth player in Europe.
The federation also began investing in women's football, developing school and club football, and creating a national league structure.
Achraf Hakimi scored a "panenka" penalty to win Morocco's first World Cup knockout match.
Funded by the FMRF, Morocco is currently the only country in the world to have two fully professional women's football categories.
The jewel in the crown of Moroccan football investment is the Mohamed VI Football Complex, just outside of Rabat.
The training complex has four five-star hotels, eight FIFA-approved pitches – one of them covered in an air-conditioned building – and a medical center including a dentist.
That investment, along with a crop of stellar talent and the best coach in Africa, has catapulted Morocco into the semifinals of the World Cup in Qatar.
Looking ahead to the next World Cup in 2026, Africa will have at least nine places, compared to the five it had in Qatar, something that could also have a transformative effect on African performances in the World Cup.
But if nations that did not qualify, such as Nigeria, Algeria, the Ivory Coast and Egypt - Algeria and Nigeria missed out on Qatar due to the away goals rule - want to build on the success seen in Qatar, they will have to think about continuing. the example of the five nations that made the continent proud.
FIFA is contributing to this by investing nearly US$600 million over a four-year cycle for the development of African men's and women's football.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but after decades of African frustration and disappointment on the world stage, Qatar 2022 could be the turning point to transform the continent's fortunes and for one of its teams to win the World Cup.
Morocco World Cup Qatar 2022