Africa's World Cup: Can we really talk of progress?

How will Morocco be remembered for their incredible World Cup run (1:25)

Rob Dawson praises Morocco's performance at the World Cup after their 2-0 loss to France in the semifinals. (1:25)

Morocco's run to the FIFA World Cup semifinals was the feel-good story of the tournament, with the North Africans the ultimate overachievers at Qatar 2022.

We still wait for Pele's infamous prediction -- that an African team will win the World Cup -- to come true, but Morocco's success has fuelled newfound optimism in the continent's football and sporting prospects.

The Atlas Lions' run to the semis is Africa's finest achievement at the tournament, with records falling as Walid Regragui's side progressed.

However, does an overall evaluation of Africa's performance in Qatar truly indicate genuine progress at the highest level of the game?

How did Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia perform?

Morocco's run dominated the African narrative in Qatar, but there were reasons for optimism for all of the continent's participants.

All five won a match -- this has never happened before -- and were in contention for the knockout stage heading into the final round of group games.

For Tunisia and Cameroon, victories over France and Brazil respectively are among the biggest wins they've claimed at a World Cup, while Senegal 's two victories puts them alongside Morocco in the elite club of seven African teams who have taken at least six points in the opening round.

Overall, Africa's teams won nine matches at the 2022 tournament, which is more than double their previous best in a single edition of the competition.

Even without Morocco's four victories -- including the penalty triumph over Spain -- the other four participants contributed five wins, more than Africa's previous best of four in both the 2002 and 2010 tournaments.

In the previous six editions, including 1998, Africa had won just three group stage matches; this year, that tally swelled to seven.

However, there are caveats.

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The aforementioned victories for Tunisia and Cameroon -- while unforgettable for supporters -- did come against heavily rotated France and Brazil teams, with each of those teams already through to the knockouts and resting almost their entire starting XI.

A win is a win, but overall, neither Tunisia nor Cameroon showed much evidence that they could have avoided defeat against against a full-strength Bleus or Selecao lineup.

Similarly, Senegal's two victories in the opening round were achieved against Qatar -- one of the poorest sides seen in a World Cup -- and Ecuador, ranked No. 51 and No. 46 globally when the draw was made, and among the five lowest ranked-teams in the tournament.

Beyond Morocco, Ghana's victory over South Korea was the only instance of an African team overachieving and defeating a full-strength side above them in the FIFA World Rankings.

Missed opportunities

While Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia had their moments -- and their victories -- there's a sense that, for each, the 2022 tournament was an opportunity lost.

Senegal may never get a better chance to make an impact on the competition.

Tipped as potential dark horses in the weeks before the campaign, their experience of winning the Africa Cup of Nations, a talented squad in their prime, a straightforward draw, and the presence of Ballon d'Or runner-up Sadio Mane, all counted in their favour.

Mane's injury changed their tournament trajectory, of course, but had they held on against the Netherlands -- before Edouard Mendy's error -- perhaps a Round-of-16 meeting with an ominous England side could have been avoided.

At the next World Cup, in the United States, Mexico and Canada, key elements of the African champions' side -- Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Mane, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Cheikhou Kouyate, Nampalys Mendy, Youssouf Sabaly -- will all be in their mid-30s, at least. Will Senegal ever have it this good again?

Ghana may rue the referee's dubious decision to penalise Mohammed Salisu for his tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo in their tournament opener -- Portugal took the lead from the penalty spot -- but their commanding showing against South Korea put their destiny in their own hands ahead of the Uruguay rematch.

Here, predictably, they absolutely bottled it, with Andre Ayew's missed penalty prompting a collapse from which they never looked like recovering.

Tunisia, meanwhile, did the hard work by holding Denmark and defeating France but in between fixtures they were outfought and outthought by an Australia team seven places below them in the World Rankings. Considering the vibrant home support they enjoyed in Qatar, they, too, ought to rue a golden opportunity missed.

Finally, to Cameroon, who -- as has often been the case for the Indomitable Lions at the World Cup -- actually had a fighting chance of progression despite the inevitable backdrop of controversy: Michael Ngadeu was bizarrely cut from the squad before the tournament, goalkeeper Andre Onana departed after one match, and association president Samuel Eto'o was seemingly hell-bent on stealing headlines off the field.

Had it not been for the odd personnel decisions in defence, and the questionable call to use the lethal Vincent Aboubakar oh so sparingly, they too might have squeezed into the knockouts at the expense of a limited Switzerland.

Africa picked up a record points haul in Qatar, but still only two sides progressed to the knockouts -- equalling 2014 -- and only one reached the quarters to equal the efforts of 1990, 2002 and 2010.

Morocco: The example to follow

Morocco defeated three full-strength European heavyweights -- Belgium, Spain and Portugal -- as well as Canada, and held their own against France in the semifinals.

Despite a raft of defensive injuries through the campaign, their resilience, superb structure and unswerving organisation that Regragui imbued in the side became hallmarks of their run.

This run, and the processes behind it, should now provide other African football associations with an effective blueprint of how to punch above their weight.

The Atlas Lions are reaping the rewards of investment in local sporting infrastructure -- notably the Mohammed VI academy -- and in the competitive domestic top flight, the Botola, which is one of the most lucrative and engaging in Africa.

A more transparent use of funds to fuel grassroots coaching and improved facilities, as well as the greater focus on the players' technical capacities and professionalism, is producing a steady stream of players who can make the most of their talent, which has long been in abundance in the football-mad country.

Morocco has also harnessed more effectively than most the nation's sizeable European diaspora.

Fourteen of the 26-man squad were born outside Morocco -- a higher percentage than any of the other 31 World Cup participants -- and the likes of Achraf Hakimi, Noussair Mazraoui and Hakim Ziyech bring their rarefied qualities, honed in elite European academies at the top end of youth development, and progressing to the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League, to the national side.

There is also diversity in the camp, and an expectation of elite preparation and performance, that exists at a more developed level than for other African national sides.

Sofiane Boufal's comments after the victory against Spain, when he dedicated the win to all "Arab people and all Muslim people", prompted a backlash about the extent to which Morocco truly identify themselves as "African", but a question ought to be raised about the extent to which Morocco's national side are representative of the rest of the continent.

A trend that should ensue from their performance is a greater focus through the rest of Africa on local coaches, with Regragui -- a late replacement for the divisive Vahid Halilhodzic -- becoming the first African to coach in a World Cup semifinal.

His success should reduce the trend for higher-profile foreign managers, something that has both helped and hindered Africa in the past, but can other African nations hope to produce tacticians of the same ilk as France-born Regragui, who spent almost all of his playing career in the French leagues before embarking on his coaching career with Moroccan top-flight side FUS Rabat?

After extensive exposure to the European game, his coaching methods were refined in the Botola and then within the established national team structures; can other African nations provide their coaches with such an environment to progress and, ultimately, oversee teams that can beat Europe's giants on the grandest stage?