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A Look at African Nations at the FIFA World Cup

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By Martin Graham | 24th Feb 2022

The World Cup has only been won by European and South American Nations. However, there have been iconic performances from other continents, most notably Africa.

Also, one of the most memorable World Cups in history was the one hosted on the continent by South Africa in 2010.

From the tournament’s inception, Africans have provided some of the World Cup’s most entertaining moments with their celebrations, performances and giant-killing exploits.

As we count down to the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar, we take a look at the African Nations who have participated in the World Cup.

How many African nations have participated in the FIFA World Cup?

Thirteen African nations have participated in the FIFA World Cup to date.

Three of the 13 have progressed to the quarter-finals stage while another three have progressed to the round of 16. Here is the full list of all the African Nations who have taken part in the FIFA World Cup and their best finishes.

  • Cameroon: Seven appearances, quarter-finals best finish
  • Nigeria: Six appearances, round of 16 best finish
  • Morocco: Five appearances, round of 16 best finish
  • Tunisia: Five appearances, group stage best finish
  • Algeria: Four appearances, round of 16 best finish
  • Côte d’Ivoire: Three appearances, group stage best finish
  • Egypt: Three appearances, group stage best finish
  • Ghana: Three appearances, quarter-finals best finish
  • South Africa: Three appearances, group stage best finish
  • Senegal: Two appearances, quarter-finals best finish
  • Angola: One appearance, group stage finish
  • Congo DR: One appearance, group stage finish
  • Togo: One appearance, group stage finish

For this edition, Egypt, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Algeria, Congo DR, Mali, Tunisia and Cameroon are looking to qualify. Mali is the only nation on this list who have never been to the World Cup.

They will all be playing in the CAF third round qualifier playoffs in March which will determine Africa’s representation at the 22nd edition of the global showpiece.

Memorable moments from African teams at the World Cup

The first ever team to win a World Cup match from Africa was Tunisia in 1978. The Carthage Eagles did not qualify for the 1976 African Cup of Nations and as a result nobody gave them a chance at qualifying for the World Cup two years later. They beat Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt to claim Africa’s only sport in the 1978 tournament and went on to stun the world by defeating Mexico 3-1 to record Africa’s first-ever World Cup victory.

The next most memorable moment was when Algeria stormed the world to beat one of the best teams in the world, West Germany, in Spain 1982. Like Tunisia in 1978, nobody gave the Algerians any chance of claiming a point from that match. The Germans even bragged about defeating the Desert Foxes with one of their players stating before the match: “We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives and the eighth to our dogs.” Algeria went on to win the tie 2-1.

The next most memorable moment was Senegal beating 1998 winners, France, to dump them out of the 2002 World Cup and qualify for the round of 16. France, at that time, was still considered as the best team in the world, boasting talents like Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Emmanuel Petit. Both nations were drawn in the same group and Senegal – tournament debutantes at the time – proved that they could hold their own on the global stage. They ran circles around the French stars and won the opening match 1-0. That loss would go on to mess with the French team’s dynamics and they went downhill from there, exiting the tournament at the end of the group stages.

Who are the highest-scoring Africans in World Cup history?

Many memorable goals have been scored by African players in World Cup history. Nigerian players especially have scored some of the best goals that the tournament has seen from African teams.

Siphiwe Tshabalala’s wonder goal in the opener of the 2010 World Cup against Mexico remains one of the best in the history of the tournament. It was an all-important goal as it also served as motivation for African teams to start the tournament on a high.

Most recently Ahmed Musa of Nigeria stunned Argentina and Iceland in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, which showed the rest of the world the quality of African players.

Here are the top 10 goal scorers from Africa in the global showpiece according to FIFA stats.

  • Asamoah Gyan (Ghana): 6 goals in 11 games.
  • Roger Milla (Cameroon): 5 goals in 10 games.
  • Papa Bouba Diop (Senegal): 3 goals in 5 games.
  • Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon): 3 goals in 10 games.
  • Daniel Amokachi (Nigeria): 2 goals in 5 games.
  • Shaun Bartlett (South Africa): 2 goals in 3 games.
  • Henri Camara (Senegal): 2 goals in 4 games.
  • Aruna Dindane (Côte d’Ivoire): 2 goals in 6 games.
  • Didier Drogba (Côte d’Ivoire): 2 goals in 8 games.
  • Patrick M’Boma (Cameroon): 2 goals in 6 games.

Some African team World Cup trivia

  • Egypt was the first African nation to play in the World Cup. They were the only African nation to represent the continent in 1934 and it took another 36 years before another African team (Morocco) played in the World Cup.
  • Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon was a 12-year-old aspiring midfielder until he watched Cameroon’s Thomas N’Kono at the 1990 World Cup which made him decide to become a goalkeeper.
  • Cameroonians Jacques Songo’o, Rigobert Song and Samuel Eto’o are the only Africans to go to four World Cups. Song and Eto’o are two of 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).

Martin Graham is an MFF sports writer

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