Numbers game: Should Africa have more teams at the World Cup?

Only five out of the 32 teams that will take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be from Africa despite the continent having 54 member nations in FIFA, football’s world governing body.

Europe – while geographically smaller than Asia, Africa, North America and South America – will have the highest number at 13.

Europe is the largest bloc in FIFA with 55 countries. It has topped the list of participants throughout World Cup history.

It has also been the most successful region in the history of football’s showpiece event with 12 titles.

How does it add up?

If size does not matter, does a region’s success determine the number of berths it gets?

The numbers game for the World Cup is not as simple as it seems.

Asia typically has one slot less than Africa but sometimes gets five places courtesy an intercontinental playoff that gives regions a possible extra berth. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Australia – which falls under the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – won a playoff against Honduras to give the AFC a fifth slot.

This time, Australia have again qualified through a playoff win, beating Peru. With Qatar automatically in the World Cup as the host nation, Asia has six teams in the tournament.

Footballing power South America has four teams heading to Qatar. Fewer countries in that region (12) meant that only 10 teams jostled for the four regular World Cup spots.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) will also have four teams this year.

Which time for Africa?

Cameroon legend Patrick Mboma said the regional variations leave Africa disadvantaged in the World Cup matrix.

“It’s unfair,” Mboma told Al Jazeera. “Look at South America. Only 10 nations involved [in the qualifiers] and 4+1 spots available. That gives Argentina or Brazil, for instance, the best chances to get experience and increase the gap with other nations throughout the other continents.”

The “4+1” he referred to was regions, apart from Africa and Europe, getting an opportunity for an extra slot from playoffs.

Peru would have become the fifth side from South America if they had beaten Australia in the playoff.

Mboma, a former African Footballer of the Year, featured in two World Cups (1998 and 2002). He is also best remembered for helping Cameroon lift back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations trophies in 2000 and 2002, in addition to winning gold at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney.

The 51-year-old, who once held his country’s goal-scoring record in international football, said that four slots from the initial qualification competition is a raw deal that hands an unfair advantage to certain countries on the continent.

Continent must ‘fix’ itself

While many on the continent would like to see the inclusion of more teams from Africa, those in the footballing community are aware of the deficiencies.

Aaron Mokoena, who captained South Africa at the 2010 World Cup on home soil, said the continent must “fix” itself.

The former Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth defender criticised countries whose stadiums were banned by FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for not meeting key standards.

Security for spectators remained poor, and medical and technical facilities on the grounds were inferior.

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