What would life be like in Africa without the sport of football (soccer)? It’s hard to imagine when you look at how big the sport has become. People are so dedicated to the sport like it has become a necessity of life. Fans closely follow the progress of their nation’s team in the CAF (Confederation of African Football) and only hope their team qualifies for the World Cup and makes history by becoming champions.
In the previous post, we took a look at the achievements of African teams in the FIFA World Cup up to 1986, where Morocco and Algeria represented the continent. The 1980s marked the era of expansion where Africa was given two spots in the World Cup as opposed to just one. The sport would only continue to grow at a rapid pace not just in Africa but across the entire world. Let’s see take a look at some great achievements of African teams over the next several decades!
Mark of the Lions
One of the biggest changes prior to the 1990 World Cup was the end of the “old school” single elimination knockout. Instead of being eliminated after 1 loss, teams would play in group formats. Eventually, Cameroon and Egypt made the cut and travelled to Italy, the host country for the World Cup. It’s worth noting that violence and tragedy were overwhelming during a couple qualifying matches. When Algeria was defeated by Egypt, a brawl broke out and an Egyptian fan’s eye was severely injured from a broken bottle. However, a much more serious incident took the life of Nigeria player Samuel Okwaraji, who collapsed during a qualifying match and died from congestive heart failure.
Egypt was part of one of the closest groups in history which resulted in five draws in six games. Despite scoring a goal against the Netherlands, they left the tournament without a win just like their 1930 appearance. While Egypt struggled once again, Cameroon and the Indomitable Lions came to the World Cup to make a statement and did just that win a surprise upset over defending champions Argentina. In their next match, a substitute player Roger Milla would help them best Romania with a 2-1 victory in which they advanced to the Round of 16. Milla would continue to prove he was Cameroon’s most valuable player with 2 additional goals against Colombia, sending them to the quarter finals. Unfortunately, the Indomitable Lions fell short in their next match against England but Cameroon’s amazing performance and legendary goal celebrations caught the attention of football fans around the world.
Video highlights of Roger Milla at 1990 World Cup
Eagles Start to Soar
Africa was awarded an extra spot in the 1994 World Cup mainly attributed to Cameroon’s stellar performance in Italy. Cameroon would once again qualify for the World Cup alongside Nigeria and Morocco. However once again, there was a great tragedy in the qualification stage when a plane carrying pretty much the entire Zambian football team crashed and killed the everyone on board; they were on their way to Senegal for a match. Zambia were given a month to put together a new team who almost made it to the World Cup. Morocco would qualify over team but it’s amazing how well the new team performed who reached the 1994 African Cup of Nations finals.
Cameroon and the Indomitable Lions struggled to advanced past the first round. However, Roger Milla became the oldest man (at 42) to score a goal at the World Cup and gave fans the sense that they could comeback and defeat Russia in the final match. This wasn’t the case and the Loins were sent home in search of a new star player as Roger Milla would retire before the next World Cup in 4 years. Roger Milla and 17-year-old Rigobert Song hold the record for the largest age gap between two team mates, 24 years and 42 days, which you can describe is the duo of an elder and young hungry lion.
Video of Roger Milla's last career goal at the 1994 World Cup
Morocco’s appearance did not fare too well as they lost all 3 of their matches and were sent back home. Nigeria made the biggest impact in 1994 by making it to the Round of 16. They looked like they were on their way to advance further with a 1 goal lead over Italy thanks to Emmanuel Amunike. Italy eventually came back at the end of the match and defeated Nigeria. It was a great effort from the Super Eagles of Nigeria who were the third African team to proceed past the opening stage after Morocco in 1986 and Cameroon in 1990. Africa would gain more attention and be granted 5 spots in the 1998 World Cup.
Video of Emmanuel Amunike's crazy header goal
Things were really starting to heat up in 1998 when 38 African nations entered the qualification phase for one of the 5 World Cup spots. It was disappointing that Burundi had to withdraw due to a civil war after they won both qualification matches. Out of the 5 qualifying teams, there was one newcomer in South Africa. The rest of teams - Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia - had made previous World Cup appearances. Even with more African teams in the World Cup, it was pretty ironic that all the teams were coached by Europeans, something that wasn’t seen again since 1974.
Morocco once again struggled in their group and were unable to make it to the next round. Cameroon were close to making it to the next round by failed the win their match with Chile which resulted in a 1-1 draw. Rigobert Song became the first player to get red cards at two world cups (1994 and 1998). Tunisia had a real lack luster appearance by leaving the World Cup with only 1 goal by way of penalty. South Africa’s debut was nothing spectacular however Benni McCarthy scored the first World Cup goal for the team. Once again, Nigeria and the Super Eagles had the most successful run by making it the next round for a second consecutive time. Teamwork was on full display throughout the tournament in which six different Nigeria players scored goals before being eliminated. Morocco and Nigeria were the only African teams to leave with a win.
'Remembering Nigeria's Golden Age'
New Lions on the Block
By 2002, almost every African nation was trying to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. 51 African nations battled it out for 5 World Cup spots. Once again, there were 4 familiar teams (South Africa, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tunisia) along with a new appearance from Senegal. The Teranga Lions of Senegal were the new lions of the block and really showed the belonged at the World Cup by overtaking Morocco's spot in the qualification round. Senegal gained a lot of recognition in their first match with a 1-0 victory over France, the 1998 World Cup champions. Many people thought this impressive win was reminiscent of Cameroon’s success over a decade ago. Football fans were shocked that the 2 best teams from the previous World Cup were knocked out in the first stage (France and Uruguay). Papa Bouba Doip and Henri Camara were the star Senegalese players that helped the team advance all the way to the quarter finals where they were eliminated by Turkey. Camara even scored a magnificent golden goal in their Round of 16 match with Sweden.
'Senegal's 2002 World Cup Journey'
The rest of teams did not have the success like Senegal but many teams didn't leave empty handed. South African managed to go home with their first World Cup win. Cameroon managed to score at least 1 win in the tournament but did not accumulate enough points to proceed to the next round. Both Nigeria and Tunisia lost 2 games and drew on the third match. Senegal attracted all the attention for their remarkable performance being the fifth Africa team to make in to the Round of 16 and only the second African team to reach the quarter finals.
It’s very exhilarating when new teams make a huge impression out of nowhere, especially with Senegal’s debut World Cup appearance. Even though they only made it to the quarter finals, they were able to eliminate the two best teams in the process is a great achievement on its own. Jaw-dropping performances helped fuel fellow African teams to strive for greatness in future World Cup tournaments.
We want to know what team walked away from the World Cup with the best accomplishment? Leave us a comment!