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Why the World Cup knockout stage is a big win for Africa

The African continent was represented by five excellent teams in Qatar and two of those teams deservedly made it into the knockout stage

Senegal celebrating after becoming one of only two African nations to advance to the round of 16 of the World Cup in Qatar

Speaking purely in footballing terms, it is fair to say this is the best World Cup group stage ever, at the very least, the most enjoyable. One continent has been a huge part of that, embodying the phrase ‘less is more’.

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Africa has matched its best performance at World Cups with two of the five teams qualifying for the second round. Morocco and Senegal. This has been made even all the more special without the presence of superstars such as Sadio Mané, Riyad Mahrez, Mohamed Salah, and the excellent Victor Osimhen.

When you consider the fact that only four years ago, no African team managed to get out of the group stage in Russia, this is a huge improvement.

This has been the best African performance at any World Cup. The teams have won a record seven matches in Qatar and only a Ghana side who can point to the unfortunate penalty miss by Andre Ayew against Uruguay got fewer than four points.

Senegal started slowly but have grown as the tournament continues, becoming a real threat to every other team, led by captain, Kalidou Koulibaly. Cameroon can also consider themselves unlucky to miss out on the round of 16 and critically speaking, the continent should have four teams heading into the knockout round but as it stands, there will be only two.

There have been brilliant performances from African players throughout this tournament. Hakim Ziyech, Mohammed Kudus, the irrepressible Cameroon striker, Vincent Aboubakar who really became the darling of the tournament with his goals and assists, and Kalidou Koulibaly of Senegal, just to name a few.

The constant exposure and growing importance of African footballers all over the world is an added factor. Several Africans are now key players at elite teams across the globe. Senegal keeper, Edouard Mendy for instance was named goalkeeper of the year for 2021 in Europe after his stellar performances for Chelsea. The high standards being set by African players in the top leagues are now translating to their international performances on the biggest stage.

Africa will have at least nine sides at the expanded World Cup in 2026, which should be a major boost to the continent. One of those Countries should be the Super Eagles of Nigeria and there could be a return for Egypt too. With 9 teams and the yearly improvements we have seen from African footballers in some of the best leagues, it is fair to say there is room for positivity and increased expectations going into the 2026 World Cup.

Africa is coming, get ready.

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