Football

What is the furthest a Muslim country has reached in the World Cup?


Though around a quarter of the world’s population follows Islam, the community hasn’t exerted that presence on the World Cup stage.

Perennial underdogs, Muslim countries arrive at football’s biggest event without too much expectation – but many teams over the years have defied that under-estimation to stun the globe on the biggest of stages.

With Morocco the latest of Muslim nations to shock and inspire at the World Cup, knocking Spain out of this year’s tournament at the round-of-16 stage, 90min takes a look back at other Muslim countries to have gone deep into the beautiful game’s main event.

The first Muslim nation to have made an appearance in the knockout stage of a World Cup campaign was Egypt all the way back in 1934. Having been unable to emulate that round-of-16 display (in which they were beaten 4-2 by Hungary) since, however, that feat is somewhat skewed by the fact that the tournament went straight into a knockout bracket in those days.

It subsequently took over half a century for another Muslim nation to feature in the knockout phase of a World Cup, with Morocco topping their group in 1986 ahead of England, Poland and Portugal only to lose to eventual finalists West Germany in the last 16.

The growth of the sport in the Muslim world soon translated into the global stage, with more regular appearances in the knockout phase throughout the 1990s.

Saudi Arabia, despite not having progressed past the group stage in five appearances since, made the round of 16 after their maiden World Cup qualification in 1994 – as did Nigeria, whose predominant religion is Islam. The Nigerians also reached the final 16 in their second ever World Cup appearance in 1998, although have managed the feat just once since.

Four years later, Senegal shocked the world to beat the reigning champions France 1-0 in the tournament’s curtain raiser, before progressing to the round of 16. That year, however, the stage belonged to Turkey, whose majority also identifies as Muslim. Under the guidance of Senol Gunes, the Turks went all the way to the final four in just their second (and latest) World Cup campaign.

Since that rollercoaster of a World Cup, knockout-stage appearances have been a little more sporadic for Muslim nations. Nigeria and Algeria both featured in the final 16 in 2014, while Senegal once again reached that stage in 2022, only to lose 3-0 to England.

All eyes in Qatar, however, have been on the inspiring Moroccans who, courtesy of their giant-killing against Spain, have bettered their previous best to reach the quarter-final stage this year – and their journey isn’t over yet.

Morocco will have to cause another monumental upset, facing Portugal in the last eight, to match Turkey’s achievement in 2002.

One of the surprise packages 20 years ago, Turkey finished the tournament in third place. After losing their semi-final clash 1-0 to eventual champions Brazil (Ronaldo scoring the only goal), the Turks managed a thrilling 3-2 win against hosts South Korea in the third-place play-off.

With the heavyweights still fighting in Qatar, Morocco would do incredibly well to match the previous best a Muslim nation has ever done at a World Cup. After everything we’ve seen so far, however, who knows?



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