Pele once said he thought an African nation would win the FIFA World Cup before the turn of the millennium. OK, he was wrong, but it will happen at some stage and by the end of the 2022 tournament in Qatar we may yet see the continent celebrating a champion.
Former England international John Barnes commented back in 2014 that Pele’s prediction didn’t come true because African teams have the wrong mentality, if the right physicality and that is something the teams en masse have to address.
Apart from the genuine talent displayed by the top African teams, something they will have in their favour over the big European countries in Qatar is the weather. Yes, they have moved the tournament to November/December but temperatures will still be in excess of 80 degrees and that is something European teams are notoriously uncomfortable with.
AFRICAN PLAYERS CAN HANDLE THE HEAT
10 World Cups have been staged in Europe with all bar one of them being won by European nations, the exception being Brazil’s win in Sweden back in 1958. A similar thing can be said of Latin American World Cups. Germany really broke new ground with their win in Brazil last time. Before that, 6 tournaments had been held in Central or South America with all of them going to Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay.
Even the event held in USA was won by Brazil and when the tournament was finally staged in Africa back in 2010, it was essentially a winter World Cup and so it was no surprise to see two European sides contest the final in Johannesburg. One of the warmest of all was the 2002 edition in Japan & South Korea, and guess what? Brazil won that one!
So, with Brazil and Argentina not the force they once were and the Europeans perhaps set to struggle somewhat in the conditions, 2022 presents a big possibility for Africa. Make no mistake, there is such a thing as horses for courses in football tournaments and soon Africa will have its chance.
THE MAIN CONTENDERS
Long gone are the days of getting to the quarter-finals as they did in Italia ’90, but these days could come back in theory at least. Now up to 32 in the world, Cameroon will need another Samuel Eto’o to come along if they are to take the leap into a World Cup final.
The Pharaohs are the top African side in the current FIFA world rankings at number 20, and the seven-time Africa Cup of Nations winners will feel more comfortable than most in the region with barely 1600 miles between Cairo and Doha.
Despite their strong credentials, Egypt will have to overturn a bad history in the tournament, Hector Cuper’s side having only been to the finals on two occasions between 1934 and 1990, both times in Italy. Should they qualify for the 2022 version though they can arrive as live outsiders to win it for sure.
You could argue the Elephants have underperformed in the past given that the likes of Didier Drogba have been at their disposal, but their time may yet come. Two Arica Cup of Nations wins are probably not enough to show for their efforts, but all that would pale into insignificance should they reach a World Cup Final.
The Super Eagles, although ranked lower than Cameroon, Egypt and Senegal at 38, probably have the same potential. The three-time Nations Cup winners are yet to get beyond the round of 16 at World Cups but will definitely feel confident of bettering that record by the time Qatar rolls around.
Ahmed Musa, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Henry Onyekuru are all young and improving forwards with big futures who could yet lead their country to success on the world stage. If Pele’s prediction had have come true and an African team were to have won a World Cup by France ’98, it would have been Nigeria and so it would be no surprise to see them rise again.
Aliou Cisse’s men will certainly feel they have a chance of World Cup glory and are the second-highest ranked African team in the world. Since shocking France in the 2002 tournament, Les Lions de la Teranga have looked capable of big things on the world stage.
Still ranked in the world’s top 30, Senegal are probably only two or three top class players short of having a seriously good squad and will be in contention.
Given the facilities available it’s perhaps surprising that South Africa haven’t done a little more on the world stage. That said, the country’s love of cricket and rugby takes up much of the sporting talent and, although a bold show is possible, a win is highly unlikely unless a couple of superstars come along in the next few years.
KEEP THE TALENT AT HOME
The most important thing African nations have to do between now and Qatar 2022 is to keep hold of their players. Some excellent talent has gone into European football from this continent in the past twenty years, mostly via France.
The problem is that a lot of that talent ends up playing for France rather than for their home country. Players like Demba Ba have even done the opposite; born in France, proven to be not good enough for them and so then playing for Senegal. This all has to stop.
Players born in Africa, even after moving to France, should be encouraged as much as possible to stick with their country and if the nations can achieve this then one of the African teams will have a serious chance of success over the next five to ten years.
It’ll be interesting to see what sort of prices bookmakers are willing to offer for the African teams given that the Europeans will be at a disadvantage over in Qatar. When the time comes, information on African teams that offer the highest possible payouts will become freely available.
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