This continent has delivered some world-class performances at the biggest stage in world football.

Many African countries have delivered world-class performances and caused significant upsets at the FIFA World Cup. When we think of such instances, we recall the match between Senegal and France, when the underdogs outsmarted the favourites of the World Cup in 2002. a decade later, Morocco went a step ahead and scripted history as the first African nation to qualify for the World Cup semi-finals.

However, as time passed, fewer African countries qualified for the World Cup. Countries from the continent, which has produced legends such as Roger Milla, George Weah, and Didier Drogba, are yet to reach the World Cup final.

The irony is that several world-class players are African immigrants, having established themselves in other countries. The outcome would have so different had played for African countries.

Regardless, African countries qualified for the World Cup, and some even advanced to the knockout stages. Here are some of the African nations that have impressed the footballing world at the biggest stage.

6. Nigeria (Second Round in 1994, 1998, and 2014)

Nigeria has always made Africa proud, taking powerful countries by storm. The gold medalists at the 1996 Olympics – who defeated Argentina in the final 3-2 – have always been a force to be reckoned with.

They are a nation of passion, grit, and determination who were always the underdogs to watch. In the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Nigeria came close to beating Diego Maradona’s Argentina before defeating Bulgaria 3-2 and Greece 2-0. They dominated the game and came close to defeating Azzuris. The Italians’ experience proved decisive as they won 2-1 in extra time.

The 1998 World Cup was also memorable, as they defeated Spain 3-2 but did not advance further in the tournament. Nigeria’s World Cup impact has waned in recent years, with the 2014 World Cup being the last time they advanced beyond the group stages.

5. Algeria (Group Stage in 1982, Last 16 in 2014)

During the 1982 FIFA World Cup, Algeria had the entire world at their feet when they qualified for the tournament. Their first game was against a formidable opponent, West Germany, which was expected to be an easy win for the Germans.

However, Algeria’s perseverance and ambition saw them defeat West Germany 2-1, and then bested Chile 3-2. But what followed was one of the most heartbreaking days in World Cup history.

Austria and West Germany were well aware that a 1-0 victory for the Germans would result in both nations progressing past the group stages at the expense of Algeria. And unfortunately for Algeria, West Germany won 1-0, ending the African nation’s World Cup journey.

On the other hand, Algeria bounced back in the 2014 World Cup when they took the match to their head as the Germans failed to match their intensity but the eventual winners managed to grind out a 2-1 victory in extra-time. 

4. Senegal (Quarter Finals in 2002)

2022 FIFA World Cup, Senegal reached the quarter-finals (Courtesy: Planet Football)

Senegal‘s rout of France in the 2002 World Cup was one of the best moments in the country’s football history. They carried their from throughout the tournament, dispatching big nations game by game.

They were on a quest for immortality, reaching the World Cup quarter-finals and becoming only the second African nation to do so. But an agonizing defeat to Turkey ended the Lions’ World Cup run.

3. Cameroon (Quarter Finals in 1990) 

In the 90s, Cameroon was an inevitable side, assertively taking on each nation. When they faced a complacent England, it was a match to remember for the English media and fans.

Cameroon had already startled reigning champions Argentina, Romania, and Colombia en route to the quarter-finals. As a result, they made history by becoming the first African quarter-finalists in a World Cup.

They then faced England, an overconfident side that played as if they had already advanced to the semi-finals. But Cameroon completely controlled the match, making England look like a Sunday league team.

With both teams tied at the end of stoppage time, the game went into extra time, where England surprisingly recovered and won.

2. Ghana (Quarter Finals in 2010)

Ghana did not have great luck before the World Cup, as their star player Michael Essien was out due to an injury.

Only a few people had foreseen Ghana to advance past the group stages at that time. But they had a sense of purpose and fortitude in the tournament, making it past the group stages.

In the round of 16, they defeated the United States before meeting Luis Suarez’s Uruguay, and we all know what happened next. Suarez’s handball gave Ghana a chance to reach the semi-final, but Asamoah Gyan fluffed the penalty kick and Ghana lost the match in a penalty shootout.

1. Morocco (Second Round in 1986, Semi-finals in 2022)

Morocco FIFA World Cup
Morocco are the first African nation to advance to the FIFA World Cup semi-finals (Courtesy: FIFA)

Morocco were considered underdogs, and to make their World Cup journey even more complicated, they were placed in the Group of Death, which included England, Poland, and Portugal.

That didn’t stop the African nation from pursuing their dreams, as they drew with Poland and England before defeating mighty Portugal in their biggest win in football history. However, their good fortune ran out when they were eliminated from the tournament after losing to eventual runners-up West Germany.

In 2022, they scripted history with a maiden semi-final appearance, the nation’s first at FIFA World Cups. Morocco beat Spain on penalties to qualify for the quarter-finals. They then shocked tournament favourites Portugal 1-0 to make the semis. This was the first time an African nation advanced to the semi-finals of a World Cup tournament. Earlier, they topped their group without facing a defeat and beat Belgium and Canada to advance to the Round OF 16 for only the second time in their history.

** This article was last updated on December 10, 2022

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