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Which are Africa’s greatest World Cup teams?

4:50 AM IST 24/03/22
Rasheed YEKINI
These continental sides left an indelible mark in the world’s biggest tournament

  • Thomas N'Kono of Cameroon

    Cameroon 1982

    Eight years before Cameroon’s finest hour at the World Cup, they impressed on their first appearance at the tournament—in 1982.

    The Indomitable Lions may have fallen at the first hurdle, but they were eliminated without losing a single match—having lost all three fixtures—including a draw with eventual champions Italy in Vigo.

    Gregoire M’Bida’s goal against the Italians was the first goal scored by a sub-Saharan African nation at the World Cup, and Cameroon’s draw against Peru was the first time a team from SSA had taken a point at the tournament.

  • Paul Breitner of West Germany, Mustapha Dahleb of Algeria, 1982 World Cup

    Algeria 1982

    Algeria may have been eliminated in the first round in 1982, but only following collusion between Austria and Germany—The Nichtangriffspakt von Gijon—as the European sides conspired to ensure a German victory with a scoreline that would see both teams through to the knockout stages.

    It remains one of the ugliest moments in World Cup history—prompting a change in the rules—and ultimately ended a remarkable Algeria journey in which they had stunned West Germany 2-1 in their opener, before also dispatching Chile 3-2 in their final group game.

    That Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi-inspired victory over a Germany side who ultimately reached the final is one of Africa’s great undervalued triumphs on the world stage.

  • Nigeria 1994 World Cup

    Nigeria 1994

    Nigeria’s greatest team won continental gold in the mid-90s, bringing the Afcon title back to Lagos for the first time since their maiden success in 1980.

    Triumph over Zambia in the ’94 final—with Emmanuel Amuneke putting on a masterclass to net twice—was followed up by a run to the knockout stages of the World Cup later that year, and then Olympic gold in 1996.

    They caught the eye in their first appearance on the global stage—memorably thumping Bulgaria 3-0 at the Cotton Bowl, Dallas in their tournament debut—before being defeated by Italy in extra time in the Round of 16.

    The team should have achieved more, although withdrawing from the ’96 Afcon and then being banned for the next edition certainly slowed their momentum.

  • Luis Suarez Uruguay Ghana 2010

    Ghana 2010

    So much focus is put on Ghana’s exploits at the 2010 World Cup, that it’s become easy to overlook their Nations Cup campaign earlier that year, when they held a magnificent Egypt team for 85 minutes in the final before Gedo broke Black Stars hearts.

    Up to that point, the West Africans had dispatched Togo, Angola and Nigeria en route to the final, with Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew in particularly exceptional form.

    Those two would again be central to Ghana’s campaign at the World Cup in South Africa, as Milovan Rajevac’s talented side became only the third African team to reach the quarter-finals at the grandest stage of all.

    Amidst the notoriety of the latter stages of the Stars’ campaign, their opening 1-0 victory over an excellent Serbia team and subsequent 1-1 draw with Australia in Rusenburg have largely been overlooked, with Gyan the goalscorer on both of those occasions.

    In the Last 16, again, Baby Jet stole the show, netting a 93rd-miute extra-time winner against the United States to set up that infamous quarter-final against Uruguay.

    This Ghana side, even without injured Michael Essien, were more than plucky upstarts, building on the form they’d shown in 2006, marrying athleticism and power with a technical quality and vibrancy in attack.

    It was only the Hand of Suarez—and that missed Gyan penalty—that denied them a spot in the final four as Africa’s first ever semi-final representatives.

  • François Omam-Biyik Argentina Cameroon 1990 World Cup

    Cameroon 1990

    The first African team to reach the quarter-finals, Cameroon’s side in 1990 may have contained some prominent amateur players, but there was no shortage of talent as they stunned reigning champions Argentina in their opening match.

    Francois Omam-Biyik’s leap and header was enough to stun the Albiceleste in an infamously ill-tempered clash in which two Cameroonians were sent off.

    Roger Milla, who would make history four years later as the World Cup’s oldest scorer, was the hero against Colombia in the Round of 16—netting two extra-time goals—before Cameroon’s run came to an end (controversially) against England in the quarters.

  • Cisse Senegal 2002

    Senegal 2002

    Senegal in 2002 just make top spot in this list because of the fact that—unlike Cameroon—their achievements at the World Cup in Korea and Japan came in their tournament debut whereas the Indomitable Lions had previously qualified for the competition.

    Senegal, like Cameroon, defeated the reigning champions in their opening match—stunning France 1-0 thanks to Papa Bouba Diop’s goal.

    They also emulated the Indomitable Lions by reaching the quarter-finals, with the likes of Salif Diao, El-Hadji Diouf and current coach Aliou Cisse starring in Bruno Metsu’s side.