Nigeria's players react after the loss to Argentina in the 2018 world cup. EPA-EFE/Tolga Bozoglu

Why African Teams Fell Short at the World Cup—Again

Why can't African players with successful club careers take their home teams far into the World Cup?

By Wycliffe W. Njororai Simiyu, University of Texas at Tyler

At every World Cup tournament since 1986, at least one team from Africa has made it to the second round of the World Cup finals. That record unceremoniously ended in Russia 2018, after all five countries – Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal - were knocked out in the preliminary round.

There were high hopes as the quadrennial tournament started that Africa could build on its display in Brazil in 2014 when two teams – Nigeria and Algeria – reached the second round for the first time.

Instead, the African continent, and its soccer adoring fans are wondering how teams boosting of European based players, who play at the highest level could suffer 10 defeats, two draws and a mere three wins out of 15 games played in Russia?

Indeed one writer wondered whether the early elimination could be bad luck, or a lack of flair. But the circumstances characterising the exit of each of the African teams were in many respects quite unique.


Egypt bounced back into the World Cup after a 28-year absence. A lot was expected from them given that they've won the African Cup of Nations a record seven times. The World Cup was ideal to demonstrate their prowess, first because they were in a manageable group and secondly, in Mohammed Salah, they had one of the world's best players.

Salah's injury on the eve of the tournament proved too costly to overcome and the rest of the players failed to raise their game to fill the void in the loss to Uruguay in the opening game. Note that Salah dominated Egypt's campaign – ultimately scoring seven, and assisting two, of the 10 goals they scored both in qualifying and in Russia.

They returned home from Russia having lost all their three games.


Morocco's campaign started with a painful own goal in stoppage time of their opening game to gift Iran a 1-0 win. It was a huge and costly defensive error against a beatable opponent given that Portugal and Spain were coming up next on their schedule.

Indeed, Morocco competed impressively in all their matches. Against the European champions Portugal, the team impressed with their offensive approach, passing, and fluidity as they sought to equalise. But conceding goals either very early or late can cost a team heavily and Morocco were twice on the losing end.

The game that brought the best and worst in Morocco was their final game against Spain. The Atlas Lions came close to beating the 2010 World Champions but conceded, yet another stoppage-time goal to draw 2-2.

Morocco's performance, like other African teams, raises questions about game tactics when leading or trailing or early and late phases of the game.


Nigeria showed promise given that they were the youngest team in the tournament featuring 18 players who had never played at a World Cup before. Unfortunately, this young squad learnt the hard way as they were just four minutes away from qualifying for the knockout rounds when Argentina scored a goal that knocked them out.

The BBC Sport quoted their coach Gernot Rohr saying:

I think the future is for Nigeria because there is a big solidarity – you saw in the difficult moments how great the spirit in the team is.

But Nigeria paid the price for starting slowly in the tournament especially in the first match against Croatia.

There's hope if this young squad is sustained and nurtured into maturity.


Tunisia managed to beat Panama. But they were simply not good enough to progress from a difficult group featuring both Belgium and England.

Captain Wahbi Khazri admitted that his side found the level against both top-drawer European opponents to be,

too high, too elevated.

Like Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria, the Carthage Eagles lost their opening game to England in stoppage time. Next, Tunisia were mercilessly hammered by a hungry Belgium 5-2.

The only consolation is that Tunisia left the competition as Africa's top scorers with five goals from three games and a sense of satisfaction after beating Panama.


Ahead of the tournament I picked Nigeria and Senegal to do well. Senegal started on a high note when they beat Poland 2-1, raising hopes that they would shine.

But the dropped points against Japan in a 2-2 draw exposed their game management deficiencies while leading in a close game. The fact that they picked up unnecessary yellow cards in their first two games rendered them vulnerable against Colombia. Indeed, their tied points with Japan led to Japan progress because Japan had a better disciplinary record – four yellow cards while Senegal had six.

Their inferior disciplinary record led coach Aliou Cisse to declare that the team “didn't deserve" to make the second round.

Poor disciplinary records are a characteristic that African teams have struggled with even in past competitions.

Hopes for next time

So why was Russia 2018 such a disaster for African teams? A great deal of hope was being placed on a few outstanding talents that were either injured or whose abilities did not blossom due to tactical limitations and tight marking by opposing teams.

It was also evident that African teams conceded goals either too early or very late. This speaks of inadequate game management skills on the side of the coaching crews.

It was also clear that most of the African players failed to raise their game to match the level expected at World Cup.

But most conclusively is the fact that the teams were outmatched technically and tactically.

The teams never managed to score enough goals, while the defences conceded goals at crucial moments. It did not help that midfield play was also devoid of creative play.

The ConversationOnce more the continent has to wait for another shot in 2022. Preparations had better start in earnest if any breakthroughs are going to happen. One thing is clear, successful club careers for African players in Europe don't necessarily translate into success for their home teams at World Cup level.

Wycliffe W. Njororai Simiyu, Professor, Health and Kinesiology, University of Texas at Tyler

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Colonialism Was a Disaster and the Facts Prove It

An academic article asserting the benefits of colonialism caused an outcry and resulted in calls for its removal.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, written by Joseph McQuade, University of Toronto. Read the original article.

Recently an academic article, asserting the historical benefits of colonialism, created an outcry and a petition with over 10, 000 signatures calling for its removal.

The Case for Colonialism, published in Third World Quarterly by Bruce Gilley, argues Western colonialism was both “objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate” in most places where it existed.

Gilley, an associate professor of political science at Portland State University, claims the solution to poverty and economic underdevelopment in parts of the Global South is to reclaim “colonial modes of governance; by recolonizing some areas; and by creating new Western colonies from scratch.”

Understandably, the article faces widespread criticism for whitewashing a horrific history of human rights abuses. Current Affairs compared Gilley’s distortion of history to Holocaust denial.

Last week, after many on the journal’s editorial board resigned, the author issued a public apology for the “pain and anger” his article may have caused.

India is often cited as a colonial success story, partly because of its train system: the trains transported colonial troops to quell inland revolts. (Shutterstock)

Whether the article is ultimately retracted or not, its wide circulation necessitates that its claims be held up to careful historical scrutiny. As well, in light of current public debates on censorship and free speech versus hate speech, this is a discussion well worth having. Although this debate may seem as though it is merely academic, nothing could be further from the truth.

Although it may seem colonialist views are far behind us, a 2014 YouGov poll revealed 59 per cent of British people view the British Empire as “something to be proud of.” Those proud of their colonial history outnumber critics of the Empire three to one. Similarly, 49 per cent believe the Empire benefited its former colonies.

Such views, often tied to nostalgia for old imperial glory, can help shape the foreign and domestic policies of Western countries.

Gilley has helped to justify these views by getting his opinions published in a peer review journal. In his article, Gilley attempts to provide evidence which proves colonialism was objectively beneficial to the colonized. He says historians are simply too politically correct to admit colonialism’s benefits.

In fact, the opposite is true. In the overwhelming majority of cases, empirical research clearly provides the facts to prove colonialism inflicted grave political, psychological and economic harms on the colonized.

It takes a highly selective misreading of the evidence to claim that colonialism was anything other than a humanitarian disaster for most of the colonized. The publication of Gilley’s article — despite the evidence of facts — calls into question the peer review process and academic standards of The Third World Quarterly.

Colonialism in India

As the largest colony of the world’s largest imperial power, India is often cited by apologists for the British Empire as an example of “successful” colonialism. Actually, India provides a much more convincing case study for rebutting Gilley’s argument.

With a population of over 1.3 billion and an economy predicted to become the world’s third-largest by 2030, India is a modern day powerhouse. While many attribute this to British colonial rule, a look at the facts says otherwise.

From 1757 to 1947, the entire period of British rule, there was no increase in per capita income within the Indian subcontinent. This is a striking fact, given that, historically speaking, the Indian subcontinent was traditionally one of the wealthiest parts of the world.

As proven by the macroeconomic studies of experts such as K.N. Chaudhuri, India and China were central to an expansive world economy long before the first European traders managed to circumnavigate the African cape.

During the heyday of British rule, or the British Raj, from 1872 to 1921, Indian life expectancy dropped by a stunning 20 per cent. By contrast, during the 70 years since independence, Indian life expectancy has increased by approximately 66 per cent, or 27 years. A comparable increase of 65 per cent can also be observed in Pakistan, which was once part of British India.

Although many cite India’s extensive rail network as a positive legacy of British colonialism, it is important to note the railroad was built with the express purpose of transporting colonial troops inland to quell revolt. And to transport food out of productive regions for export, even in times of famine.

This explains the fact that during the devastating famines of 1876-1879 and 1896-1902 in which 12 to 30 million Indians starved to death, mortality rates were highest in areas serviced by British rail lines.

The Bengal famine of 1943 was the final British-administered famine in India and claimed around three million lives. When Winston Churchill was asked to stop shipping desperately needed foodstuffs out of Bengal, he said Indians were to blame for their own deaths for ‘breeding like rabbits.’ (Shutterstock), CC BY.

Colonialism did not benefit the colonized

India’s experience is highly relevant for assessing the impact of colonialism, but it does not stand alone as the only example to refute Gilley’s assertions. Gilley argues current poverty and instability within the Democratic Republic of the Congo proves the Congolese were better off under Belgian rule. The evidence says otherwise.

Since independence in 1960, life expectancy in the Congo has climbed steadily, from around 41 years on the eve of independence to 59 in 2015. This figure remains low compared to most other countries in the world. Nonetheless, it is high compared to what it was under Belgian rule.

Under colonial rule, the Congolese population declined by estimates ranging from three million to 13 million between 1885 and 1908 due to widespread disease, a coercive labour regime and endemic brutality.

Gilley argues the benefits of colonialism can be observed by comparing former colonies to countries with no significant colonial history. Yet his examples of the latter erroneously include Haiti (a French colony from 1697 to 1804), Libya (a direct colony of the Ottoman Empire from 1835 and of Italy from 1911), and Guatemala (occupied by Spain from 1524 to 1821).

By contrast, he neglects to mention Japan, a country that legitimately was never colonized and now boasts the third largest GDP on the planet, as well as Turkey, which up until recently was widely viewed as the most successful secular country in the Muslim world.

These counter-examples disprove Gilley’s central thesis that non-Western countries are by definition incapable of reaching modernity without Western “guidance.”

In short, the facts are in, but they do not paint the picture that Gilley and other imperial apologists would like to claim. Colonialism left deep scars on the Global South and for those genuinely interested in the welfare of non-Western countries, the first step is acknowledging this.

Joseph McQuade is the SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for South Asian Studies, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.

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