Ranking Africa’s greatest World Cup matches

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Vincent Enyeama Lionel Messi Nigeria Argentina
GOAL’s Ed Dove remembers the true thrillers involving African teams at the World Cup
  1. Morocco 3-1 Portugal
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    #8 Morocco 3-1 Portugal

    Morocco’s first ever victory at the World Cup came in only their second appearance at the tournament, when they reached the knockouts in 1986.

    This was the finest hour for a magnificent Atlas Lions side that contained the likes of Abdelmajid Dolmy, Badou Zaki and Aziz Bouderbala, and critically, this side were unfazed by coming up against some of Europe’s heavyweights at the Mondiale.

    Goals from Abderrazak Khairi and Merry Krimau saw them past Portugal, and they topped a group containing Poland and England before eventually falling against West Germany in the second round.

    Morocco have only won one World Cup match since—against Scotland in 1998.

  2. Ghana 2-0 Czech Republic
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    #7 Ghana 2-0 Czech Republic

    Ghana had the youngest squad of all at the 2006 World Cup—with an average age of 24 years and 203 days—and having lost against Italy in their tournament opener, they were expected to bow out after two matches.

    They had miserable luck with the draw, as defeat by Italy was followed by a meeting with dark horses the Czech Republic, who had reached the semis at the European Championships two years previously.

    However, Ghana were uncowed, and took a two-minute lead through Asamoah Gyan before enjoying a man advantage when Tomas Ujfalusi was sent off after the hour mark.

    Sulley Muntari made sure of victory late on, as a team containing Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech were stunned by the youthful Black Stars.

  3. Ivory Coast 3-2 Serbia
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    #6 Ivory Coast 3-2 Serbia

    Like Ghana in ’06, the Ivory Coast were handed a nightmare draw in their maiden tournament appearance, having been pitted against the Netherlands and Argentina in their opening two matches.

    After two 3-2 defeats, they were out, but still had the opportunity to end their campaign with three points when they faced Serbia and Montenegro in their final group game.

    After 20 minutes, they were 2-0 down, but a remarkable rally ensured and—with an Aruna Dindane double and a late Bonaventure Kalou penalty—the Elephants secured their first win at the World Cup.

    They certainly left Germany with their heads held high, but were ultimately unable to escape the group stage in two subsequent World Cup showings.

  4. South Africa 2-1 France
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    #5 South Africa 2-1 France

    South Africa may have fallen at the first hurdle on home soil in 2010, but they actually overachieved at the tournament, holding Mexico in their opener (which could have made this list) and even defeating heavyweights France in their final group game.

    Of course, it was a Bleus side riddled with conflict and controversy, but Bafana Bafana’s 2-1 win should still be considered one of the greatest World Cup giant killings ever.

    Two first half goals from Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela ensured South Africa left their own tournament—the first on African soil—with a major scalp.

  5. Nigeria 2-3 Argentina

    #4 Nigeria 2-3 Argentina

    The fourth instalment in the storied rivalry between Nigeria and Argentina was the pick of the bunch, as these two old foes renewed hostilities after meeting in 1994, 2002 and 2010.

    In 2014, in Porto Alegre, the match between a direct shootout between Lionel Messi and Ahmed Musa, both of whom bagged braces, with Vincent Enyeama in inspired form to deny Messi further goals.

    Ultimately, Marcos Rojo’s 50th-minute goal—the fifth in a frenetic opening hour—proved to be the difference between the pair, with both advancing to the knockouts.

  6. Cameroon 2-3 England
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    #3 Cameroon 2-3 England

    A World Cup quarter-final thriller may have represented the end of the road for this excellent Cameroon team during their historic run in 1990, but it was a performance that genuinely rocked footballing royalty.

    For a time in the contest at least, it looked as though Cameroon might actually pull off another remarkable upset.

    England took the lead through David Platt, but the introduction of super-sub Roger Milla turned the tide, with the veteran winning a penalty before then setting up Eugene Ekeke to send Cameroon 2-1 up

    The Three Lions eventually rallied and—with a formation tweak and two penalties—won the tie 3-2 in extra time.

    A rollercoaster and unforgettable contest no doubt, but on another day, it could have been something even more.

  7. Nigeria 3-2 Spain

    #2 Nigeria 3-2 Spain

    The Super Eagles’ opener at the ’98 World Cup was an absolute thriller, with Nigeria twice coming back from a goal down against La Roja before taking a 3-2 lead late on.

    Of course, the game is famous for Sunday Oliseh’s 77th-minute stunner, but there had already been plenty of twists and turns before then, with Spain in the ascendancy until Andoni Zubizarreta’s blunder let in Garba Lawal in the 72nd minute.

    It was a massive victory for Nigeria, albeit registered in chaotic circumstances, as a team containing the likes of Raul, Miguel Angel Nadal, Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro was knocked off in style.

    Unfortunately, the Eagles weren’t to realise their true potential, and were dispatched by Denmark in the Round of 16.

  8. Ghana 1-1 Uruguay (Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties)

    #1 Ghana 1-1 Uruguay (Uruguay win 4-2 on penalties)

    Perhaps Africa’s most heart-breaking moment on the grandest stage, Ghana appeared closer to reaching the semi-final then any of the continent’s competitors before them, only for a handball and a missed penalty at the end of extra-time stoppage time to deny them.

    Luis Suarez and Asamoah Gyan were—of course—the key protagonists in this infamous clash, which forged a unique rivalry between these two sides.

    We’ll enjoy a rematch between the pair in Qatar this year, but it’s unlikely to match their quarter-final in 2010, when Ghana matched the South Americans throughout the contest—even taking the lead through Sulley Muntari—but ultimately succumbed on penalties.

    Not all fairytales have happy endings.