The best African moments in World Cup history

Africa is a very special continent when it comes to football. While is true that they don't have the most resources due to a wide variety of sociopolitical reasons, there is no denying that they have managed to constantly produce a lot of amazing football players in that context and every decade it becomes more and more prominent.

Jose Mourinho once famously said that if all the players that were born in Africa would play for their respective nations, that continent would win a World Cup. And while that is difficult to gauge because football has so many variables, he does have a point. So it was interesting to look back on what Africa had done in the biggest sporting event in the world so far.

In this article we are going to cover some of the most amazing moments that African nations have had in the World Cup, as of this writing. Let's see.

Nigeria introduces themselves to the world (1994)

Even though Nigeria is now widely regarded as one of the most important football nations in Africa, they didn't make it to the World Cup until the 1994 edition in the United States. It was long overdue for the country with the biggest population in the continent and a national team that already had two AFCON trophies in their cabinet.

Dubbed as "the golden generation" for qualifying to the World Cup and having a lot of talented footballers playing their trade in Europe, Nigeria managed to defeat a very strong Bulgaria team by a 3-0 score in their opening goal. The image of their first scorer, Rashidi Yekini, grabbing the net after opening the score has become one of the most iconic images in African football.

Nigeria would eventually lose to then-Euros reigning champions Denmark in the quarterfinals, but their performance in the 1994 World Cup is widely regarded as a success and the golden generation has inspired tons of African players ever since.

Senegal and a dream (2002)

Senegal didn't have the biggest expectations when they qualified for the 2002 World Cup in Korea-Japan for the first time in their history. And when you consider that their group had the likes of France, Uruguay and Denmark, you would think that they were lambs to the slaughter.

However, the African nation amazed the world by defeating reigning World Cup champions France in the opening goal with a 1-0 win. Then they drew against Uruguay and Denmark, thus making it to the round of 16 where they defeated Sweden through a Henri Camara goal.

They would eventually lose to Turkey in the quarterfinals, but no one can deny that Senegal's performance in the 2002 World Cup is one of the finest in African football history, and the legend of that group of players lives to this very day.

Roger Milla's iconic dance (1990)

Roger Milla was one of the first prominent African players in the history of football, mostly standing out in France during the 70s and 80s, but by 1990, at 38 years of age, he was already retired from the Cameroon national team. However, once the nation qualified to the 1990 World Cup, the president himself called him to participate with the team in the competition.

The African star accepted and his legacy grew even larger in Italy 1990.

At 38 years of age, Milla scored four goals as a super sub of sorts in the amazing run that Cameroon had in the competition, being the first African nation to reach the quarterfinals. In that run, Milla scored a double against Romania for a 2-1 in the group stage and another double against a great Colombia side to take Cameroon to the quarterfinals.

He did all of this while doing a celebration that has become iconic throughout the years: Milla dancing in the corner flag after scoring a goal. It has become one of the most symbolic moments in World Cup history.

Yassine Bounou (Bono)
Bono - one of the Moroccan heroes

Morocco doing the impossible (2022)

A freshly new one, Morocco arrived to the World Cup in Qatar with a very talented squad, arguably the finest in their entire history. And they managed to amaze the world by defeating Spain after extra time and through penalties thanks to their goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou (or simply Bono).

It was a tough match for the Moroccans as they had to deal with a lot of Spain's passing and highly technical players, but they managed to soak up the pressure and their resolve was shown in the penalty kicks. It was the first time that Morocco reached the quarterfinals in the competition's history. Achraf Hakimi's Panenka-style penalty is going to become a part of African football history throughout the years.

In the quarter-final Morocco took on Portugal and after a goal from Youssef En-Nesyri in the first half, Morocco managed to keep Portugal without scoring, and thus becoming the first African team to reach a semi-final in the World Cup.

Morocco lost in the semi-final against France and also lost the bronze medal game against Croatia, but still, African FIFA World history was made by Morocco in December 2022 in Qatar.

Nigerian madness at France (1998)

Nigeria's performances in the World Cup at France in 1998 were widely viewed as a disappointment. After a solid debut World Cup in 1994, winning the Summer Olympics in 1996 and having a lot of players in some top teams in Europe, there were a lot of expectations for the Eagles in this competition that, sadly enough, were not delivered.

However, their 3-2 victory thriller against Spain in the group stage was one of the finest African moments in World Cup history.

It is also worth pointing out that this was a good Spain team that had a lot of players from Real Madrid and Barcelona that had been very successful in the decade of the 1990s, so Nigeria managed to overcome the odds and defeat one of the most gifted teams in that World Cup. The fact that they came back twice during the game was also a very inspiring moment.

One of the best tendencies that African football has always is that they manage to go against the odds and defeat a lot of teams that were deemed as superior, thus showing us that determination, resolve and hard work can always make a monumental difference in both football and life as a whole.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.