The 5 Greatest African Teams in World Cup History
Five African sides will head to Brazil looking to etch their names into the tournament’s illustrious history. Ghana, Nigeria, the Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria and Cameroon would all, surely, be content with a run to the quarter-finals. However, the quintet will each be acutely aware that any side who could go one stage further would truly break a glass ceiling for the continent’s sport.
This article looks back over the five sides that have come closest or who have made the biggest impact on the international high table.
Could another side join this elite collection in six months’ time?
World Cup Showing: Round 1—Played 3, Won 2, Drawn 0, Lost 1
Star Man: Rabah Madjer is one of North Africa’s finest exports. The striker was a European Cup winner with Porto in 1987, having scored an equaliser in the final, and was also African Footballer of the Year in the same year. Both he and the magnificent Lakhdar Belloumi were in fine fettle during the World Cup in Spain.
Coach: The Desert Foxes prospered under the tutelage of two men during the summer of ’82. Mahieddine Khalef looked after the team during the Summer Olympics of 1980, while he was joined in Spain by Rachid Mekhloufi, himself a national hero from the legendary FLN team of the late '50s and early '60s.
Defining Moment: Unfortunately, Algeria were eliminated in the first round following collusion between Austria and West Germany. The two European neighbours, knowing that a German victory by one or two goals would see both sides through, played for a specific result.
The Nichtangriffspakt von Gijon remains one of the World Cup’s ugliest moments and ensured that one of Africa’s finest sides will remain eternally unfulfilled on the international stage.
World Cup Showing: Round of 16—Played 4, Won 2, Drawn 0, Lost 2
Star Man: For Emmanuel Amuneke, in a career of many injuries and many frustrations, the World Cup in 1994 stands, almost unbroken, as a souvenir of the winger’s sublime skill. He scored against Italy and Bulgaria and, having been tremendously influential in bringing the continental crown back to Nigeria only a few months earlier, looked to have the world at his feet.
Coach: Dutch tactician Clemens Westerhof remains one of the great names in Nigerian football. He took charge of the nation’s Golden Generation of the early '90s and finally began to realise the country’s immense footballing potential. As well as harnessing a collection of memorable talents, he crucially won the AFCON title with the Super Eagles.
Defining Moment: Nigeria’s opening game of the tournament, and their first-ever match in the World Cup, was against Bulgaria at the Cotton Bowl, Dallas. A Super Eagles side containing the likes of Finidi George, Rashidi Yekini and Daniel Amokachi smashed the Eastern Europeans 3-0 in a match that remains one of Africa’s finest single performances at the World Cup.
World Cup Showing: Quarter-final—Played 5, Won 2, Drawn 1, Lost 2
Star Man: Asamoah "Baby Jet" Gyan was the figurehead of a Ghanaian side that packed the midfield with strong players. These men built the moves while Gyan was there to finish them off.
He scored the extra-time winner against the United States, a late winner against Serbia in the Black Stars’ opening match and a first-half equaliser against Australia in Rustenburg.
Despite missing the late, late penalty against Uruguay in the quarter-final, Gyan held his nerve to open the scoring in the ill-fated shoot-out.
Coach: Serbian Milovan Rajevac was one of numerous Yugoslav managers to find recognition though managing in Africa. He took over the Black Stars post in August 2008 and guided the team to the final of the 2010 AFCON before heading to the World Cup.
He has been out of the game since leaving the Qatar post in 2011.
Defining Moment: For all their good work, Ghana’s World Cup showing in 2010 is best remembered for Luis Suarez’s goal-line hand-ball in the dying seconds of the quarter-final. The Uruguayan’s actions denied Ghana’s place in the semi-final (and history).
World Cup Showing: Quarter-final—Played 5, Won 2, Drawn 2, Lost 1
Star Man: Before El-Hadji Diouf became the most-detested figure in British football, he was a lightning player with the world at his feet. Certainly, the controversies and the questions of temperament lingered, but people spoke of the left-sided forward for his pace and his incisive movement, rather than his spitting and his acrimonious comments.
Coach: The late Bruno Metsu enjoyed a long and distinguished career in his native France, as well as Asia and Africa. The summer of 2002 was his crowning glory, but he also won the Gulf Cup with the United Arab Emirates in 2007.
He passed away in October 2013 following a long battle with colon cancer.
Defining Moment: The Teranga Lions’ opening defeat of France will eternally be remembered as one of the tournament’s greatest upsets and one of the most iconic moments in World Cup history. The West Africans were debutants, while France were not only a European powerhouse and the reigning world champions, but one of history’s greatest collection of international players.
World Cup Showing: Quarter-final—Played 5, Won 3, Drawn 0, Lost 2
Star Man: Roger Milla may have made history (and become a medical mystery) by finding the net at the 1994 World Cup at the age of 42, but he also made some vital contributions four years previously.
He scored two extra-time goals against Colombia in the Round of 16 to secure Cameroon’s place in history as Africa’s first-ever representatives in the quarter-final.
Coach: Having given up on his mediocre playing career in his mid-twenties, Valeri Nepomniachi had a long time to prepare for his coaching career. Although major success in his homeland has, thus far, avoided him, the veteran boss has built a reputation for himself in Turkey and China.
His finest hour, however, remains that summer in Italy with Cameroon.
Defining Moment: Cameroon opened the 1990 World Cup with a battle against the holders Argentina. In one of the tournament’s greatest-ever shocks, the Indomitable Lions held their own through a bad-tempered match in which two of their number were sent off. The clash was settled 67 minutes from the end when Francois Omam-Biyik leapt above the defence to head home—the Albiceleste, stunningly, could find no reply.
The Indomitable Lions were thus introduced to an international audience, and the stage was set for a fine campaign.