African sides have been deemed underdogs in many a Fifa World Cup game. Still, there are a handful who, even against some of the world’s biggest football nations, have distinguished themselves. Ahead of the next Mundial, TTT profiles five of these upsets.
Algeria 2-1 West Germany
Algeria’s maiden World Cup outing, at Spain 1982, was set to commence in the scariest possible way, against fearsome West Germany: the reigning European champions and a team that had qualified for the competition scoring 33 goals and conceding 30 fewer. The Algerians were novices, and that West Germany side — featuring the Paul Breitners, Karl-Heinz Rummenigges and Uli Stielikes – rubbed that obvious disadvantage in their faces.
“We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs,” quipped one West German player, while their manager, Jupp Derwall, even promised to “jump on the first train back to Munich” if his team contrived to lose.
In the end, though, they were forced to acknowledge Algeria’s underestimated prowess. Technically and physically superior Algeria got a deserved first goal 54 minutes into the game, the brilliant Rabah Madjer capping a sweeping break before Rummenigge levelled in the 67th.
The favourites got pegged back almost immediately, though, with Lakhdar Belloumi — the other icon of Algeria’s golden generation — completing a brilliant nine-man move right from the restart prompted by Die Mannschaft’s equalizer. With that, West Germany became the first European team to be beaten by African opposition at the World Cup – quite a humiliation, given their pre-match display of hubris.
It was a truly seismic result at Gijon’s El Molinon stadium which, according to a German newspaper published the next day, felt “like the sinking of the Titanic.”
Cameroon 1-0 Argentina
Argentina, with Diego Maradona at peak form, were arguably the finest side on the planet going into the 1990 World Cup. If nothing at all, they had their majestic No.10. — the world’s best footballer by a mile – seeking to pick up the triumphant note on which he signed off at the preceding edition.
And while the Albiceleste did go all the way in Italy (only to lose in the finale to Germany) that year, their title defence got off to an embarrassing start against plucky Cameroon.
Argentina’s colourful brand of football was nullified all game by Cameroon’s brutal yet very effective methods. Maradona failed to find his flow and his team paid for it, a downward second-half header from forward Francois Omam-Biyik –spilled by Argentine goalkeeper Nery Pumpido — proving the difference.
That the Indomitable Lions finished with two men less than they started with made their feat all the more incredible, with Valeri Nepomniachi’s side progressing to become Africa’s first ever World Cup quarter-finalists.
Nigeria 3-2 Spain
Spain never saw this one coming, and it’s hard to say Nigeria themselves did, but somehow the pair served up a thoroughly thrilling World Cup classic, with the Africans ultimately claiming the spoils. Drawn together in Group D, some might reasonably have expected the two nations to finish at either end of the table — Spain above, of course.
In the end, though, the order was almost reversed — Nigeria topping the group and Spain finishing third — and it’s hard to argue that the result of their intense group opener had little to do with it.
Spain had qualified for France ’98 undefeated and were led by Fernando Hierro and Raul Gonzalez, two among La Roja’s contingent who had savoured Uefa Champions League glory with Real Madrid just before the World Cup.
True to form, both scored, the former via a sweet 21st-minute freekick, before producing an assist for the latter to double the lead. After each Spanish strike, however, Nigeria responded with one of their own, through Mutiu Adepoju and Andoni Zubizarreta’s own goal. Finally, 12 minutes from the end, and with the game finely tilted on a knife-edge, Nigeria went for the jugular – and in some style! Austin Okocha’s long throw-in was only partly cleared by a Spaniard, allowing Nigeria’s Sunday Oliseh to pounce and delivered — from all of 25 yards — the winner.
Forget a 6-1 thrashing of Bulgaria in their final group game; Spain never quite recovered and eventually crashed out. Up, Super Eagles!
Senegal 1-0 France
Senegal’s World Cup debut was — and still is — a memorable one. Skipper Aliou Cisse (who leads the Teranga Lions to Russia 2018 as coach some 16 years later) bossing it at the back, solid Tony Sylva minding goal with class, and the likes of Papa Bouba Diop and Henri Camara finishing off El-Hadji Diouf’s slick moves upfront all helped get Senegal to the 2002 World Cup’s quarter-finals against the odds.
Having burst off the blocks in the manner they did against then holders and former colonial masters France, however, it was little surprise Bruno Metsu’s charges advanced so far. Les Bleus, without talisman Zinedine Zidane, were undone by a solitary Bouba Diop goal that gave the Africans a merited win.
For the Senegalese — as in the case of Cameroon described earlier — that result only set the tone for what turned out to be a truly remarkable campaign.
Ghana 2-0 Czech Republic
Ghana’s lot in their first World Cup appearance seemed impossibly daunting. Locked in a Germany 2006 group featuring two of the top four Fifa-ranked teams at the time as well as a country that would go on to win the competition that year, it seemed the Black Stars could do little more than pray and hope.
An opening loss against Italy was a definite blow, but the Ghanaians bounced back in the second group fixture against highly rated Czech Republic and made it count.
Asamoah Gyan got the first of his six World Cup goals with a sublime half-volley past Petr Cech to open the scoring in just under two minutes of kick-off — on record as the fastest goal at that tournament — with Sulley Muntari widening the advantage with a neat second.
Both players might have added to their respective goal counts in that game, but for Gyan missing a re-taken penalty and Muntari having a good finish ruled out for offside.
The Europeans couldn’t muster a comeback, though, and eventually failed to make it out of the group, while it only took the might of a Ronaldo-led Brazil to haul Ghana out in the knockout rounds.