Wednesday 23 February 2022, 13:00

African nations at the FIFA World Cup

  • Thirteen African nations have participated in the FIFA World Cup

  • We look back on their best moments and celebrations

  • See statistics and trivia

ParticipationsCountryBest finish
Nigeria6Round of 16
Morocco5Round of 16
Tunisia5Group stage
Algeria4Round of 16
Côte d'Ivoire3Group stage
Egpyt3Group stage
South Africa3Group stage
Angola1Group stage
Congo DR1Group stage
Togo1Group stage

Memorable moments

Africa’s maiden triumph Nobody gave Tunisia, who didn’t even qualify for the 1976 AFCON, a shot at seizing Africa’s solitary place at Argentina 1978. When The Eagles of Carthage stunned the likes of Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt to claim that spot, however, they were determined to make the most of their opportunity. Trailing to Mexico in their opener, goals from unlikely sources – centre-back Ali Kaabi, defensive midfielder Nejib Ghommidh and right-back Mokhtar Dhouieb – snatched Tunisia a 3-1 success and Africa’s first-ever World Cup victory. A green day in Gijon “We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives and the eighth to our dogs,” said one West Germany player before their Group 2 opener at Spain 1982. Those WAGs and Dobermanns had no place in an Algerian fairy tale. Les Verts’ devastating one-touch football harrowed Paul Breitner, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Co from the outset, and goals from Lakhdar Belloumi and Rabah Madjer completed a seismic 2-1 upset.

When Roger met Rene Cameroon stunned defending champions Argentina 1-0 in USA 1994’s curtain-raiser en route to reaching the Round of 16, where they encountered Colombia. The intriguing clash would ultimately belong to substitute Roger Milla, who had been coaxed out of retirement for the tournament. The 38-year-old netted a fine opener and an iconic second, famously robbing goalkeeper Rene Higuita of possession before slotting it into an empty net, to secure the Indomitable Lions a 2-1 win that made them the first Africans to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

The Super Eagles’ grand entrance “That was like watching the great Brazilian sides,” said John Fashanu after Nigeria’s World Cup debut: a 3-0 win over Bulgaria. The former England striker may have been biased given his Nigerian descendancy, but that 90-minute exhibition at the Cotton Bowl nonetheless wowed the world. Finidi George, Emmanuel Amunike, Daniel Amokachi and Rashidi Yekini blended individual magic with indecipherable team-work in a demolition of an iconic, Hristo Stoichkov-led team who went on to reach the USA 1994 semi-finals. The Super Eagles were eliminated in an extra-time loss to Italy in the Round of 16, but their thrilling campaign continues to be remembered.

Senegal shake Seoul France landed in the Far East being championed as a meliorated model of the side that claimed the trophy in 1998, with Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet having evolved into some the best players in the world in their positions. In a volcanic, 16-1 upset, however, they were stunned in Korea/Japan 2002’s opening match by tournament debutants Senegal, whose squad comprised players based in the French lower leagues and Africa. El Hadji Diouf terrorised Les Bleus throughout, while Papa Bouba Diop got the only goal as the Lions of Teranga won 1-0 in probably the greatest opening-match upset in World Cup history. Bruno Metsu’s men went on to become the second African side to reach the quarter-finals.

It's time for Africa South Africa, afforded Pot 1 status as hosts, went into the final draw for the 2010 finals hopeful of being given a shot at making a nation proud. When Mexico, Uruguay and France were made their company in Group A, the consensus was that they’d be whipping boys. After a pulsating yet goalless first half against El Tri in their opener, however, Siphiwe Tshabalala produced a sensational strike to spark hysteric scenes at Soccer City.

Did you know?

  • Egypt became the first African country to play in the World Cup in 1934. It was another 36 years before the continent was next represented in the competition, through Morocco in Mexico.

  • Cameroon remain the only side in history to top a World Cup group with a negative goal difference. At Italy 1990, one-goal victories over Argentina and Romania preceded a 4-0 loss to Soviet Union.

  • Gigi Buffon was a 12-year-old aspiring midfielder until watching Cameroonian Thomas N’Kono at the 1990 World Cup made him dream of becoming a goalkeeper. The Italy legend named his first son Louis Thomas in honour of his idol.

  • There was over 24 years between 17-year-old Rigobert Song and Roger Milla, 42, at USA 1994 – the biggest age gap between two team-mates in the tournament’s history.

  • Tunisia sacked their coach during France 1998. After Henryk Kasperczak oversaw losses to England and Colombia, he was replaced by Ali Selmi, who led them to a 1-1 draw with Romania.

  • When African qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002 began, Senegal were 79th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, beneath the likes of Thailand, Cuba and Haiti. The Lions of Terenga went on to reach the last eight of that World Cup.

  • Four England squad members – David Seaman, Teddy Sheringham, Martin Keown and Nigel Martyn – were older than the combined age of Nigerians Femi Opabunmi and Bartholomew Ogbeche, both 17, when they met at the 2002 finals.

Nigeria’s Bartholomew Ogbeche in action at Korea/Japan 2002

  • In their Group C game at Germany 2006, a 39cm (1ft 3ins) height difference existed between Côte d’Ivoire’s Bakary Kone and Serbia and Montenegro giant Nikola Zigic.

  • When they played IR Iran at the 2006 finals, Angola’s 23 squad members had scored 40 fewer international goals between them than opponent Ali Daei.

  • At South Africa 2010, Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jerome Boateng of Germany became the first brothers to play against each other in the competition.

Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jerome Boateng shake hands before Ghana-Germany at South Africa 2010

  • Cameroonians Jacques Songo'o, Rigobert Song and Samuel Eto’o are the only Africans to go to four World Cups. Song and Eto’o made appearances in all four and are among only nine men to go to World Cups 16 years apart along with Antonio Carbajal (Mexico), Elias Figueroa (Chile), Hugo Sanchez (Mexico), Beppe Bergomi (Italy), Lothar Matthaus (West Germany/Germany), Faryd Mondragon (Colombia) and Rafael Marquez (Mexico).

Champions and icons from Africa

Five World Cup winners were born in Africa: Claudio Gentile (Libya), Marcel Desailly (Ghana), Patrick Vieira (Senegal), Steve Mandanda (Congo DR), and Samuel Umtiti (Cameroon). So, too, were two Golden Boot winners in Just Fontaine (French Morocco, now part of Morocco) and Eusebio (Mozambique). Other notable World Cup players who were born on the continent include Mario Coluna (Mozambique), Jean Tigana (French Sudan, now part of Mali), Mbo Mpenza (Zaire, now Congo DR), Claude Makelele (Zaire, now Congo DR), Emmanuel Olisadebe (Nigeria), Abel Xavier (Mozambique), Patrice Evra (Senegal), Gelson Fernandes (Cabo Verde), Danilo (Guinea-Bissau) and Breel Embolo (Cameroon).

The celebrations

The dancing granddad Roger Milla enchanted the world with his goal celebration in 1990, running to the flag and shaking his hips by it. “Twenty years ago, Roger Milla celebrated a goal in a way no-one else ever had before,” said a Coca-Cola advertisement, to the tune of Wavin' Flag by K'naan, for South Africa 2010. “Goal celebrations changed forever. Right there and then, he set everyone free. It snowballed into this madness where fans and players just let go.”

The urinating dog Was there time for one last chance when Nikos Machlas had the ball on the edge of the opposition box, seconds before the half-time whistle, in a crucial Group D curtain-closer at USA 1994? It turned out there was, but it didn’t fall to Greece. Michael Emenalo cut out an attempted through-ball, Emmanuel Amunike flared upfield and released Finidi George, whose glorious dink broke the deadlock. If that rapid turn-around was unexpected, what ensued was even more startling. The Ajax winger, indeed, crawled on his hands and knees, cocked his leg and imitated a dog relieving itself!

The acrobat Julius Aghahowa turned Wing Stadium grass into spring floor for five seconds at Korea/Japan 2002. During them, the Nigeria winger performed seven spellbinding somersaults.

Choreographed euphoria Tshabalala and Co dancing in front of the ecstatic Bafana Bafana fans after he scored the opening goal of South Africa 2010 is unforgettable. “When they announced the World Cup was coming to South Africa [in 2004], I was nowhere as a footballer,” he told FIFA. “But I remember telling my friend, ‘I’ll be there in 2010, playing for Bafana Bafana’. It shows the power of positive thinking. It was the same as the game got closer – I envisaged having a good game and scoring a goal. The celebration showed that actually because it was rehearsed. We knew we were going to score!”

Highest-scoring Africans

Asamoah GyanGhana611
Roger MillaCameroon510
Ahmed MusaNigeria47
Papa Bouba DiopSenegal35
Samuel Eto'oCameroon310
Daniel AmokachiNigeria25
Shaun BartlettSouth Africa23
Henri CamaraSenegal24
Aruna DindaneCôte d'Ivoire26
Didier DrogbaCôte d'Ivoire28
Patrick M'BomaCameroon26