The men's Fifa World Cup kicks off on 20 November in Qatar. Africa is allocated five spots in the month-long final stage of this elite competition, held every four years. Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia secured their places after a preliminary knockout phase followed by a four-team round robin competition.
Once again, many pundits are wondering if an African team can win it all at this unconventionally scheduled World Cup (it's usually held mid year). No African team has ever qualified for the semi-finals. Only Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana have reached the quarter-final stage before.
It's not lost on the African teams that they carry the burden of history to break the proverbial glass ceiling. Many would argue that 2022 is the time to change Africa's World Cup story. The continent has always promised a great deal in the international showcase but delivered very little. Reasons for this include poor preparation, internal controversies, a bad disciplinary record, technical and tactical errors at crucial moments and recruiting foreign coaches at the last minute.
This time, however, there's been stability in the coaching ranks and for the first time all teams will be led by home-grown coaches on the technical bench.
Looking at the pedigree of the African teams, and their respective opponents, Cameroon and Senegal stand the best chance to qualify for the second round and possibly beyond. Here's a closer look at the teams' chances.
Tunisia make their sixth World Cup appearance, having featured in 1978, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2018. The Eagles of Carthage topped their second round qualification group. In the third round, where the 10 African group winners faced off in March over two legs, home and away, Tunisia scraped past Mali on goal aggregate. Qualification still saw a change in manager, following a quarter-final exit in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
New coach Jalel Kadri guided his country through the play-off. Wahbi Khazri was Tunisia's top scorer in qualification and will be relied on if Tunisia is to survive the star-studded sides in Group D (France, Australia and Denmark). It will need a major upset for them to progress to the second round, given their opposition's pedigree.
Ghana makes a long-awaited return to the World Cup having previously qualified in 2006, 2010 and 2014. In 2010 they became only the third African team to reach the quarter-finals. The Black Stars booked their ticket in the final stages after topping Group G in the second round of qualification, beating South Africa, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to set up a third-round play-off against Group C winners and fierce rivals Nigeria, whom they beat in a dramatic match. The Black Stars will be led by new coach and former Ghana international Otto Addo, who was in charge during the play-off win. He featured in Ghana's first World Cup appearance in 2006. The team will be up against Portugal, the Republic of Korea, and Uruguay in Group H. A rematch with Uruguay is a painful reminder of Uruguay's handball that stopped a goal-bound shot, leading to Ghana's elimination in 2010.
Ghana has harnessed several top overseas-born dual nationals to strengthen the squad. There are quality players but there's also a lack of international experience and team cohesion, given the short window leading to the tournament. The team will revolve around the Ayew brothers in attack and Thomas Partey in midfield. Although this team looks good on individual talents, building a collective understanding and cohesion defensively is a challenge the coach has to deal with to stand any chance of progressing to the second round.
Morocco is returning to the World Cup after faring poorly in the 2018 edition. They have appeared in 1970, 1986, 1994, 1998 and 2018. This team should look to their 1986 squad for inspiration. They led their pool and were the first African team to qualify for the second round. Now coached by Walid Regragui, Morocco won all six matches in their group against Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sudan, scoring 20 goals and conceding only one. They then eliminated Democratic Republic of the Congo in the third round of the qualifiers.
Morocco is in Group F and will face off with 2018 runners-up Croatia, Belgium and Canada. Morocco can count on several star players - like Hakim Ziyech, Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saïss and Yassine Bounou. Their talented team face Croatia in their opening match. It's a game where they must aim to pick up at least a point before facing the highly rated Belgium, concluding with a must-win game against Canada to have a chance of progressing to the second round.
Cameroon's Indomitable Lions have been consistently representing Africa at the World Cup, appearing in 1982, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010, and 2014. They eliminated Mozambique, Malawi and Ivory Coast before setting up a playoff against Algeria, whom they beat sensationally with a goal in the 124th minute. Under legendary coach Rigobert Song, who appeared in four World Cups as a player, Cameroon will arrive in Qatar with some top-level talent spread around Europe, such as André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, André Onana and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. There are also several potential breakout stars on the team.
Cameroon's strength lies in its solid midfield play and potent attack, with a physically imposing style of play. In 1990, Cameroon became the first African team to make the quarter-finals. This year they face Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia. Good results against Serbia and Switzerland can propel them to the second round and even further.
Senegal shocked the footballing world when they brought down France in their 2002 World Cup debut and went on to qualify for the quarter-finals, the second African team to do so. The Lions of Teranga must be looking forward to their third cup under coach Aliou Cissé, who captained the 2002 team. In 2018, they fell short on disciplinary grounds. Hopefully they learnt from that bitter experience.
Reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions, Senegal breezed through the group stage unbeaten to set up a playoff with rivals Egypt, whom they faced in the Africa Cup of Nations final. On both occasions, Sadio Mané scored the winning penalty in nerve-jangling shootouts. In Qatar they will look to at least match their memorable quarter-final showing in 2002. Ranked 18th in the world, Senegal face Netherlands, Qatar and Ecuador in a group that should hold no fears for a strong side with good experience down its spine. The team sports the likes of Édouard Mendy, captain Kalidou Koulibaly, Idrissa Gueye, Ismaïla Sarr and the attacker Mané.
The downside is that Mané, runner-up for the Ballon d'Or player of the year award, might not participate due to an injury. But on a good day the Lions of Teranga present Africa's best opportunity to advance in the World Cup. The team has many individual talents who have played together often and are characterised by a strong team spirit and never-say-die attitude.
Wycliffe W. Njororai Simiyu, Professor, Health and Kinesiology, University of Texas at Tyler