An African country’s hiatus from the FIFA World Cup can be long and punishing. Simply put, when barren footballing times descend upon a nation, there is no guarantee when they will find their way back to the biggest stage of them all.
An uphill battle
This is largely down to the fact that only five teams qualify for the showpiece out of a competing 54 nations which means that the margin for error is virtually nil when a country sets out on the road to the World Cup. The problem is, and football fans will gladly tell you, mistakes do happen when the pressure is turned up which can often lead to the most crushing outcomes in such a tight qualifying system.
There are, of course, few things worse than the World Cup coming around and your nation not being there. Regrettably, this will be the reality for Kenyan football supporters for the foreseeable future after the country was issued with a ban from international competition by FIFA.
As far as participation for eligible teams goes, there are indeed a few horror stories around that have no conclusion in sight with regards to African teams being unable to clinch qualification after decades of trying. Take South Africa, for example, who last qualified for the World Cup in 2002. Football fans may point to the fact that Bafana Bafana played in the 2010 World Cup, but that was more of a technicality than anything else as they were exempt from having to qualify by virtue of being the hosts.
Twelve years on from that World Cup and South Africa are still in the wilderness having missed out on qualification for the 2022 event in Qatar.
It is a desperate state of affairs, but should it be this way? Is Africa being given the short end of the stick?
Is Africa being unfairly marginalized?
When you take into account that CONCACAF – the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football – are allocated four places for the World Cup then you’re inclined to think that the qualification system needs looking at again. In addition to that, there are only 41 members associations vying for the four places which is 13 fewer than Africa yet the continent only gets one additional spot.
Perhaps the argument should focus on the greater contribution to global football and, yes, this is where the debate gets slightly more emotional as official figures take a back seat. In reality, though, you only need to look a how many truly great African players the continent has provided the best leagues in Europe to realize that perhaps it isn’t the best practice to restrict African nations to just five qualifying places. Put another way, the world is being starved of watching the most accomplished players at the World Cup.
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For further proof, you only need to look at the squad lists of the best team in the Premier League that are currently vying to win the top-flight title to grasp how influential these African players are.
In particular, Liverpool has both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane who are arguably two of the greatest African players of all time. The Reds stand a great chance of winning the English title thanks to the exploits of these two, and this can be seen if you look at the online betting sites that offer odds on the winner of the Premier League, such as LV BET, as they have priced Jurgen Klopp’s men at just 2.75 to stop favourites Man City.
Any new customers on the site or at other major bookmakers who think this is good value can take advantage of welcome bonuses such as free bets, although there is also a huge range of betting markets for other sports and leagues that these can be used on.
Unfortunately, one of Mane or Salah won’t feature at the 2022 World Cup as Senegal and Egypt have been drawn against each other in the play-offs. Both are strong teams so it highlights how the current qualification system is flawed.
The question now is whether the expansion to 48 teams at the 2026 World Cup is the right solution as it has increased the number of sports for Africa, but there’s a strong argument that it will dilute the quality of the tournament similar to how expanding to 24 teams did the same for the Euros.
It might have been better to rework how many spots the confederations get, although that would definitely cause lots of disagreements. The 2026 World Cup will certainly be watched with interest to see whether FIFA’s big experiment works among other things.
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