The Best Performances By African Teams At World Cups

africa continent made up of footballsThe continent of Africa has produced some fantastic players throughout the years. These players have graced the top European leagues in recent decades, playing for some of European football’s elite clubs. However, African nations have not always fulfilled their massive potential on the world stage.

That changed slightly at World Cup 2022 in Qatar, with north African giants Morocco making history by becoming the first team from their continent to make it to the semi-finals of the competition. On Wednesday night, the Lions of Atlas will face world champions France for the chance to make it to the World Cup final.

Their achievement has been immense in Qatar, but how deep have African teams previously made it into World Cups in the past? Here are the best performances of African teams at World Cups:

Morocco (2022, semi-finals)

morocco fans at the world cup
Morocco fans at the World Cup – Антон Зайцев, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

We, of course, start with record-breakers Morocco, who have been the surprise package of World Cup 2022. Walid Regragui’s team unexpectedly topped a group also containing European powerhouses Belgium and Croatia, as well as underdogs Canada.

Morocco finished the group stages unbeaten, having taken seven points. They then saw off Spain in the last 16 in a penalty shootout following a 0-0 draw. Their historic moment came in the quarter-finals as a Youssef En-Nesyri goal was enough to defeat Portugal 1-0. The win made Morocco the first African team to ever make the last four of a World Cup.

However, their journey ended there in Qatar. Losing to the world champions, France, in the semi-finals.  While a final appearance would have been the icing on the cake it wasn’t to be and nonetheless it is still a monumental achievement for the Lions of Atlas.

Ghana (Quarter-finals in 2010)

world cup mascot south africa 2010The Black Stars did not enjoy the best preparation for World Cup 2010, as they headed into the campaign without their star man Michael Essien. Despite the midfielder’s loss, Ghana qualified for the knockout stages from a group that contained Germany, Australia and Serbia.

Ghana then defeated USA 2-1 in extra time to make it through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time. The quarter-final meeting with Uruguay is now a thing of legend.

With the game level at 1-1, Uruguay forward Luis Suarez handled a goal-bound effort on his own goalline and was dismissed.  Ghana’s star striker Asamoah Gyan stepped up and missed the resulting spot-kick. Images of Suarez celebrating the miss down the tunnel understandably angered Ghanaian fans and fans worldwide.

However, Uruguay held out for a penalty shootout, and the South Americans prevailed and broke Ghanaians’ hearts.

Cameroon (Quarter-finals in 1990)

cameroon football concept

The Indomitable Lions made history in 1990 when they became the first African nation in the history of the World Cup to make the quarter-final stage.

Cameroon shocked reigning champions Argentina in the opening game, recording a 1-0 win, despite the fact that they finished the game with nine men. Veteran forward Roger Milla then starred in a 2-1 win over Romania. Milla stepped off the bench to grab a brace and become the oldest-ever goalscorer at a World Cup.

The win ensured their qualification for the knockout stages, despite a 4-0 hammering against the Soviet Union in their final group game.

Then came the round of 16 and a clash with Colombia. Milla and co recorded a 2-1 victory over the South Americans in extra time to make history.

The win over Colombia set up a last-eight meeting with England. The Indomitable Lions were the better side for much of the encounter. They led 2-1 until the 83rd minute when the Three Lions’ star forward Gary Lineker scored an equaliser from the penalty spot to take the game into extra time.

Lineker scored a second penalty kick in extra-time to send England through to the semi-finals and end Cameroon’s memorable tournament. Cameroon has failed to repeat the same feat as Italia ’90.

Senegal (Quarter-finals in 2002)

world cup 2002 south korea japan hoardingThe Lions of Teranga went into World Cup 2002 very much as underdogs to make it out of their group. They were in a group containing reigning champions France, Uruguay and Denmark.

In their maiden World Cup, Senegal upset the odds in their first group game, beating mighty France 1-0. They then drew with Denmark and Uruguay to book their place in the last eight of the competition, eliminating France and much fancied Uruguay in the process.

Their reward was a last-16 clash with Sweden. The game finished 1-1 after 90 minutes, but a Henri Camara golden goal in extra time sent Senegal through to the quarter-finals.

Unfortunately for Senegal, their tournament ended in the last 16. They suffered an extra-time 1-0 defeat against Turkey, with Ilhan Mansiz scoring a golden goal just a few minutes into the extra-time period.

Senegal may have exited the competition at the quarter-finals stage, but they did it with their heads held high. To be only the second African team to make it to the quarter-finals of a World Cup, especially at their first attempt, was something special.

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