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TIMELINE: Five memorable World Cup moments for African teams

TIMELINE: Five memorable World Cup moments for African teams
November 19
09:45 2022

Impact is not often reflected by size or quantity but by quality. Nothing emphasises that statement like the history of African countries at the World Cup. With minimal slots and expectations, the continent has conjured some of the most awe-inspiring moments at the quadrennial football festival.

From the ‘dancing Grandpa’ legendary moments of Roger Milla in Italia ’90 to Algeria stunning West Germany in Spain ’82 and registering one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, every African representative to the Mundial can boast of a spine-tingling moment that moved the world to resounding applause and praise.

The five African teams at Qatar 2022 will definitely hope to add more to this impressive catalogue of memories.

Below are five of the most memorable moments for African teams at the World Cup.



Egypt was the first African country to play at the World Cup. After turning down the opportunity to play at the maiden edition in Uruguay in 1930, the Egyptians dared the odds and braced for the arduous journey to Italy.

Although the tournament’s participants had been expanded from 13 teams that played in Uruguay to 16, there was only one spot reserved for a team from Africa and Asia.


Egypt had to face British-occupied Palestine for a place in the Mundial. The Pharaohs were managed by James McCrae, a Scottish who had played for Manchester United before World War I cut short his career. The Africans proved hungrier for the World Cup slot, defeating Palestine 7-1 in Cairo before wrapping it up with a slimmer 4-1 in Tel Aviv.

Qualifier sorted, the band of Africa’s pride sailed to the World Cup in Italy with high hopes.

The tournament was a straight knock-out, and the Pharaohs were paired with Hungary for their first game.

The Egyptians had defeated the Hungarians 3-0 at the 1920 Paris Olympics and were buoyed by the attacking talents of Mokhtar El Tetch and Abdelrahman Fawzy.


The game, however, produced a contrasting result as Egypt lost 4-2. Fawzy scored the two goals for the Pharaohs, making him the first African to score at the World Cup.

Egypt crashed out of the tournament, and Africa would not be represented at the Mundial until 36 years later.



Africa did not qualify for the second round of the World Cup until Mexico ’86.

Although Africa had resumed its appearance at the World Cup in 1970, the continent did not register its first victory until Tunisia defeated Mexico 3-1 in Argentina ’78. The development heralded more brazen campaigns of African teams at the tournament.


Morocco led the way in 1986 with a relentless run that saw them top a group with England, Portugal and Poland.

The Atlas Lions drew their first two games against Poland and England before stunning Portugal 3-1 in their final group game.


They progressed to the second round, but West Germany halted their high-flying run with a 1-0 defeat.



Few World Cup moments have been romanticised as the Indomitable Lions’ run to the quarter-final of the 1990 edition. It had all the makings of an epic grace-to-grace script: giant-slaying, an inspirational squad of actors, and the birth of a legend.

It was Cameroon’s second-ever World Cup appearance, and they beat Nigeria to the ticket.

They found themselves shoehorned into a group with Argentina, the defending champions, Romania, and the Soviet Union.

Under immense pressure, the rough gems of the Lions transformed into icons. They stunned the world when they defeated Argentina 1-0 in their opening game, with Diego Maradona on the pitch. Romania was up next, and a 2-1 victory secured Cameroon a second-round ticket. The loss to the Soviet Union in their final group game mattered less as they rallied to surpass Carlos Valderrama-inspired Colombia 2-1 in the second round.

They became the first African country to book a quarter-final place at the World Cup and were only beaten by England after extra time.

Roger Milla scored four goals for the Lions, setting a glut of personal records in the process.


Africa’s most populous nation did not appear at the World Cup until USA ’94. It was a long overdue appearance for a country that had already won two African Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophies.

The squad was replete with players capable of incredible individual brilliance and telepathic team play that they would forever be dubbed the “golden generation”.

The Super Eagles announced themselves on the Mundial stage with a surgical dismembering of Bulgaria in their first-ever game. The image of Rashidi Yekini clutching the net and screaming after scoring Nigeria’s first World Cup goal remains one of the most powerful moments in football.

Although Argentina defeated them in the second game, the Eagles thumped Greece to advance to the second round.

Denmark however halted the dream debut with a 4-1 defeat in the Last 16.


Not many would have envisaged that debutants Teranga Lions would embark on a giant-killing spree at the 2002 World Cup. When the African qualifying round for the tournament began, Senegal was 79th on the world ranking, beneath countries like Thailand, Cuba and Haiti.

A second-place finish at the Mali 2002 AFCON showed the spark that the Lions could ignite, but the champions Cameroon were regarded as Africa’s best chance in east Asia.

Senegal began the competition with a 1-0 win over France, a team that had Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet.

They drew the remaining group games against Denmark and Uruguay and proceeded to the second round, where they faced Sweden.

Henri Camara’s golden goal sent them past the Swedes into the quarter-final, but Turkey, another outlier on an unlikely run, stopped them in the final eight.

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