(OPINION) 2022 World Cup: Can Africa Shock The World?
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(OPINION) 2022 World Cup: Can Africa Shock The World?
Written by Regina Monday:
Ninety-two years after the world’s football governing authority, FIFA cut the ribbons to launch the World Cup, the biggest house party in the football sphere, it has remained a platform for nations to meet, greet and characteristically chase the gaunlet- the coveted trophy. With the stakes astronomically rising since France and Italy led the first charge in a 4- 1 showndown at the fiesta’s opening in 1930, the tournament has morphed from being a jolly crusade to bask in the allure of diversity and witness sportsmen showcase thrilling kicks and dribbles to a battle for glory, significance and bragging rights.
The applaudable trajectory of the tournament has left the doors open to the 195 countries across seven continents of the earth’s ever increasing plane, with eighty gracing the event and seventeen playing host thus far to the round leather game of soccer’s most grand house warming party. As nations of the world hopped on the train increasing the festival’s demographics, the black race’s alma mater, Africa also set out to familairise herself with the event. The continent went on to mark her first attendance four years after the party started with the Pharaohs of Egypt in 1934 when Italy played host, avowing her resolve to be a regular face in the competition. However, when the continent paddled off in a hazy 36-year recess, it was almost concluded she had cocooned herself into believing the quadrennial contest was in no way in over her head. The land of Sahara had in fact chased smoke and mirrors.
Nevertheless, upon a comeback through Morrocco in 1970, the continent has managed to stay under the radar for fifty- two years now. With the entity’s sophomore appearance came her dazzling jerseys, flamboyant flags and thought- provoking animal imagery nicknames inspired by her cultural depth and long history of resilience. As her glitz drew the world’s attention so did her cascade of untimely exits and non profitability. In no time, media watchdogs and concerned hawk eyes like elated flies to a carcass queried the continent’s constant tussle with the brick wall. They wondered if she could offer anything but fad.
However, when a major development that almost passed for a glimpse of hope rocked the land of Niger in 2010, the narrative was predicted to have a fortune change. The news of the great Nelson Mandela’s home, South Africa hosting the most exotic gala night in soccer left Africans agog. We believed it was finally time. The hope- laden theme, ” It is time” accompanied by an afro fusion anthem ” Waka Waka” by Columbian singer, Shakira meant Africa was finally ready to talk shop. Conversely, the constant rendition of the anthem that would later suffice as a part of Africa’s sports devotional for devoted congregants did not yeild fruit as host, South Africa’s early exit at the hands of Uruguay left a smear on the face. A quarter final milestone by Ghana’s Black Stars that could evidently not stand toe to toe with a win by southwestern Europe side, Spain was Africa’ s only trophy in the bout.
Four years later in 2014, nothing changed, leaving Africa with a three-time quarter final qualification in 1990, 2002 and 2010 through Cameroon, Senagal and Ghana respectively as a consolation prize. The wooble between Africa’s sports bigwig, the Super Eagles of Nigeria and Iran seemed to have rubbed more salt on the continent’s wound. As faithfuls counted days to the next quadrennial brawl, memories of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions squandering a semi final chance six minutes away against England in 1990 still left raging trauma. The streak of traumas did not end as the continent gave her worse form in 2018 when no country under her aegis managed to stay afloat in the group stage. The event marked Africa’s worst run in 36 years. Amidst foreshadowing that the continent might never recover from her downturn, she qualified for the 2022 race currently hosted by middle eastern Arabian nation, Qatar.
While African football bigshots like Nigeria, Mohammed Salah’s Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso could not make the cut, the baton was in trusted hands with the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, Black Stars of Ghana, The Atlas Lion of Morrocco, Teranga Lions of Senegal and Carthage Eagles of Tunisia. The giddy optimism of the ensemble five-man representative was soon threatened by a cutthroat grouping. Africa was set for the slaughter house. Fifty-six games down and eight teams left, Africa’s fate lies exclusively with North Africa side, Morrocco. The unexpected yet pleasant surprise completely evaded soothsayers and pundits as Ghana’s 5-1 assault on South Korea amidst other beautiful performances from the anointed five did not exactly leave the spotlight on the Arabian nation.
Where would the premonition that the Arabian side would set a trail of feats to knock out 2010 World Cup Champions, Spain in a 3-0 pitched battle have sprung from? The Atlas Lions who had been prophesied to become the lamb against the European heavyweight became the stunner after goalkeeper Yaccine Bounou and boy wonder, Hachraf Hakimi gave near metaphysical displays in their first ever World Cup shootout that ended in favour of new coach, Walid Regragui. The victory goes beyond serving as the side’s first ever quarter final qualification in the World Cup; it also serves as Africa’s first quarter final qualification since 2010 through Ghana and the fourth quarter final qualification in her World Cup history.
In the build up to the final showdown on December 18 at Lusail Stadium, an elated Morocco still has to face Ronaldo’s terror-like Portugal for a spot in the Semi-finals on Saturday 10th December- a match that could either make or further break the continent.
Can Morocco while savoring the delight of holding the record as the first Arabian country to journey to the quarter final stage of soccer’s apex battle royale gather the needed morale to face an all-star Portugal, secure Africa’s first semi final slot at the Mundial and possibly a win? Can Africa shock the world?