Morocco’s run to the semifinals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar set a new benchmark for Africa at the global showpiece, but was by no means the only major achievement by a team from the continent.
After the struggles of Russia 2018, when no African team reached the last 16, this was a watershed World Cup where the potential of the continent was on display for the watching world.
We pick out the major highlights for Africa in Qatar.
GOALS SCORED IN TOTAL
21 – This is a new record for Africa at the World Cup finals, with Morocco not surprisingly the major contributor with six goals scored. Senegal netted five – all in the group stage – while Ghana had the same number and Cameroon scored four. Tunisia netted one, though that came in their historic 1-0 success against France.
Morocco 1-0 Portugal, quarterfinal
Morocco had a memorable win over Belgium in the group stages and ousted Spain on penalties in the last 16, but it was their victory over much-fancied Portugal that really stood out.
The Portuguese were many people’s favourite to reach the final, but came up against an organised, structured and skillful Morocco, who kept their more illustrious opponents at bay.
This was also the game that handed Morocco a semifinal place, the first for the continent, and was a fully deserved win in which they showed fight and heart, and made a continent believe they could go all the way!
BEST AFRICAN PLAYER
Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco)
The Morocco defensive midfielder was simply superb for the Atlas Lions, acting as a shield for the back four and helping the side keep their shape and structure.
The Dutch-born star played every minute of the campaign for the side and his high-energy performances were both eye-catching and might impressive.
The Fiorentina midfielder has certainly seen his stocks rise and it will be a surprise if he is still at the Serie A club come the start of the 2023/24 season.
Cameroon’s famous win
Cameroon may not have made it out of their pool, but their 1-0 victory over Brazil was historic as they first time the South Americans have lost to African opposition at the World Cup.
Granted it was a weakened Brazil side, but Vincent Aboubakar’s late winner, and subsequent red card for taking off his short, will live long in the memory.
According to data company Gracenote, it is the biggest shock in World Cup history, pipping Saudi Arabia’s win over Argentina in the same tournament.
Tunisia beat their old foe
Another notable win for Africa was Tunisia’s 1-0 success against eventual finalists France.
The North Africans did not make it out of their pool either, but finished on a high as French-born Montpellier forward Wahbi Khazri scored the winner.
Tunisia and France have a complicated past, and despite not making the last 16, this will be a huge win for Tunisian football and its people.
Morocco had to hold on to take their last 16 clash against Spain to penalties, but when they needed a hero, up stepped goalkeeper Yassine Bounou.
The Canadian-born gloveman ensured Spain did not score a single penalty in the shoot-out as Morocco advanced 3-0. He also made a number of outstanding saves in the 120 minutes.
Senegal looked as though they were heading out in the pool stage having conceded an equaliser to Ecuador in their final Group A clash.
For many teams, that would have been a moment to let their heads drop, but to their credit the west Africans, without injured star man Sadio Mane, bounced straight back.
Captain Kalidou Koulibaly netted with a difficult finish just three minutes later as he volleyed into the back of the net at the back post, when many would have skied the ball over the crossbar.
Ghana’s superb win
Ghana had narrowly lost their opener 3-2 to Portugal, and need3ed to bounce back in their second Group H game against South Korea.
They looked well on course when they led 2-0 at halftime, but two second-half strikes from Cho Gue-sung brought the Asian side level.
The momentum was certainly with the Koreans, but credit the Black Stars’ fighting spirit as they found a winner through the excellent Mohammed Kudus.
PIECES OF HISTORY PLAYERS/TEAM
* Morocco are the first African nation to reach the semifinals of the World Cup.
* Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech become the record-holders for the most appearances at a World Cup finals for Morocco with 10 each.
* Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou became the first African gloveman to keep three clean sheets in a single edition of the World Cup.
* Morocco’s three wins at Qatar 2022 against Belgium, Canada and Portugal is the most they have managed in a single tournament. They had only won two games in 16 previous finals matches before 2022.
* Morocco’s run of six games unbeaten (W3 D3) straddling the 2018 and 2022 World Cups is a record for the team.
* Morocco striker Youssef En-Nesyri set a new record for his country with three World Cup goals – one scored in 2018 and two in 2022. No other player has as many.
* Coach Walid Regragui of Morocco is first African tactician to reach the semifinals of the World Cup. Before this tournament, no African coach had been to the quarterfinals before.
* Morocco’s seven points is the most ever by an African nation in the group stages of the World Cup.
* Tunisia beat France for the first time in their history with a 1-0 group stage success.
* Tunisia only conceded a single goal in their three pool games, their best defensive display at a World Cup.
* Tunisia striker Wahbi Khazri extended his record as the most prolific scorer for the country at the World Cup. He now has three goals (two in 2018 and one in 2022). No other Tunisian has scored more than once.
* Cameroon became the first African side to beat Brazil at a World Cup.
* Cameroon have only ever won five games at the World Cup, but three have been against South American opposition – Argentina and Colombia in 1990, and Brazil in 2022.
* The five goals Ghana scored at the World Cup is their joint most in a single tournament (along with 2010), but the seven goals they conceded is also the most ever, beating six in 2006 and 2014.
* Ghana’s victory over South Korea was the first time they have beaten an Asian opponent at the World Cup.
* Senegal’s two wins at the 2022 tournament matches their best return when they managed the same number in 2002. But their two losses are the most they have suffered in a single World Cup. Their seven goals conceded is also a record for the country.
* A quartet of Senegalese players now hold the record for most World Cup appearances for the country with six. Kalidou Koulibaly, Youssouf Sabaly, Idrissa Gana Gueye and Ismaila Sarr are all on that number.
"We wanted to bring joy to our fans but we're still happy, we're among the four best teams in the world. "We provided everyone with a good show, we never gave up. I think we showed our strength, we showed that African football is prepared to face the top teams in the world with efficiency and playing at the highest level." – Morocco coach Walid Regragui.
“Pinch me, I think I'm dreaming. These moments are great, but we're here to change the mentality. This feeling of inferiority. .. we have indeed changed this mentality, and the generation coming after us will know that Moroccan players can create miracles." – Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou after their 1-0 quarterfinal win over Portugal.
"Today we did win the match but we are disappointed because we realise now we could have done better in this tournament. We do have a feeling of regret but you need to look on the positive side and I am satisfied with tonight's performance. I realise this was an historic victory now we have beaten Brazil, so my players should be congratulated. But we are young team and today we have seen a team getting stronger and stronger. The World Cup helped us to learn and we have to avoid making the mistakes we did in the first two matches." – Cameroon coach Rigobert Song after beating Brazil 1-0.
"If someone scores a goal, congratulations. But it was really a gift. A real gift. What more can I say, (it was) a special gift from the referee. I think it was a really bad decision. I don't know why VAR didn't intervene. There is no explanation for me. And then it's difficult against a world-class team when they are leading." – Ghana coach Otto Addo after his side conceded a penalty against Portugal.