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Top 20 Legendary African Football Moments You Should Know

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It feels like the perfect time to reminisce on the legendary African football moments from years past as earnest anticipation for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Right now, we have people contacting their foreign embassies for travel information, match predictions flying here and there, bets being placed, and some teams training the hardest they have ever done the entire football season. The world is rallying for a wholesome football experience.

But, sometimes we forget that we didn’t always have football. How did it ever become so important and addictive for some? How does it invoke such strong emotions? How does it give back as much excitement and support as it receives? We can find the answers when we look in the history books at those legendary African football moments that lingered even after the minute details of the match had been forgotten.

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Here’s presenting the top 20 legendary African football moments you should know.

Top 20 Legendary African Football Moments You Should Know

legendary African football moments
Source: “Portugal-Mozambique friendly South Africa World Cup 2010 Wanderers_1162” by Meraj Chhaya is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

20. Zaire conceding nine (9) against Yugoslavia at the World Cup

Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, was the first Sub-Saharan team to participate in the World Cup when they qualified in 1974.

Led by Yugoslavian coach Blagoje Vidinic, much was not expected from them as they were paired in group B alongside Brazil, Scotland, and Yugoslavia.

Then-president Mobutu Seseko had showered the team with gifts and promises should they make it to the knockout stages.

Zaire bowed to Scotland in their first game by 0-2 after a decent performance. They now needed not to lose against the other two (2) opponents to make the last 16.

Their second game wasn’t one to remember as they lost to Yugoslavia by nine (9#0 goals without scoring.

The third game vs. Brazil ended 3-0 in favor of Brazil.

Zaire exited the competition without scoring a goal and conceding 14 goals.

It was later rumored that the Yugoslavian coach never returned to Zaire after the World Cup.

Which one of the legendary African football moments did you find exhilarating? Have you got any predictions for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022? Let’s hear it in the comment section. If you missed the post on African teams set to make their mark on FIFA World Cup 2022, catch it here.

19. Morocco making World Cup last 16

When Morocco qualified for World Cup 1986 in Mexico, little was expected from the North African nation despite boasting talents such as Goalkeeper Badou Zaki, Merry Krimau, and Aziz Bouderbala, to name a few.

The Atlas lions, as they were fondly called, were paired in the group stages alongside powerhouses England, Portugal, and Poland.

Morocco finished as group leaders in Group F after two goalless ties against Poland and England and then beating Portugal by 3 goals to 1.

Morocco was then paired in the round of 16 vs. eventual winners West Germany who had finished 2nd in Group E.

It was a tense encounter with a final score of 1-0 in favor of West Germany.

Although Morocco had to bid farewell to the tournament early in the knockout stage, they gave the West Germans a run for their money.

18. Eto’o becoming the highest paid Soccer player

In August 2011, Samuel Eto’o Fils, the current President of the Cameroon Football Federation, made history once more when he became the highest-paid soccer player in the world after joining Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala from Inter Milan. He spent two seasons in Russia before joining Chelsea FC in August 2013.

17. Luis Suarez’s Hand of God?

No African team had gone past the round of 8 at the World Cup. 

On June 2nd, 2010, Ghana played its first-ever World Cup Quarter Finals.

It was the last minute of extra time when Luis Suarez prevented Ghana from scoring a winner with a goal save using his hands. He was red-carded, and Ghana was awarded a penalty.

Ghana’s talisman Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty, and Ghana ended up losing the game in post-match penalty shootouts.

Some labeled Suarez’s save as the hand of God.

16. Samuel Eto’o Fils winning back-to-back UEFA Champions League

There is no doubt that Samuel Eto’o Fils is arguably Africa’s best footballer and one of the finest strikers in Europe.

He played for some of the best clubs in Europe and is Cameroon’s top scorer in football history. He also holds the record for the most goals in the AFCON.

Samuel Eto’o won the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona in 2005-06. He scored Barcelona’s first goal and was also voted Man of the Match at the finals, where Barcelona beat Arsenal 2-1.

At the 2008-09 Champions League Finals, he scored Barcelona’s first goal against another English opposition, Manchester. Barcelona won the game by two goals to one.

At the end of the 2008-09 Season, Barcelona acquired the services of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan, and Eto’o was part of the deal as he was shipped to Inter Milan, where he ended up winning the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League.

He still stands as one of the few players to win back-to-back UCL with two different clubs.

15. Rogers scoring at 42

Cameroon shocked the football world at the 1990 World Cup in Italy by beating World Cup holders by 1-0 despite ending the game with nine (9) men. Cameroon’s hero at that tournament was no other but 38-year Roger Milla, who ended the competition with four (4) goals and was voted 4th best player.

When Cameroon made it to the 1994 World Cup in a group including Russia, Brazil, and Sweden, some still expected much from them.

Cameroon tied its first game with Sweden, lost 3-0 to Brazil, and 6-1 to Russia, exiting the competition in the 1st round. 

What made Cameroon’s participation so special was 42-year-old Roger Milla scoring against Russia, making him the oldest scorer ever (to date) at a World Cup. 

14. Senegal winning the AFCON for the first time 

It is no doubt that Senegal has always been a force to reckon with in African football. But it was incomplete, as the Teranga Lions were yet to win Africa’s most coveted trophy.

In 2017, Senegal lost in the Quarter Finals via Penalty Shootout to eventual winners, Cameroon, and lost by 0-1 to Algeria at the finals in 2019.

Senegal was the tournament favorite coming into the 2021 AFCON, and it was no surprise they emerged champions by beating Egypt 4-3 through a penalty shootout.

13. Zambia losing the National team to a plane crash in 1993

The Zambian Football tragedy is still fresh in the minds of many African football lovers.

A team loaded with talents on its way to Senegal for a World Cup qualifier crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. All 25 passengers and five (5) crew members lost their lives.

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12. Zambia making it to AFCON 1994 Finals

On the 27th of April 1993, a Zambian aircraft carrying the Zambian National team en route to Senegal for a World 1994 qualifier crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

Zambia had lost nearly an entire National team squad. It took less than a year for Zambia to assemble another team consisting of predominantly home-based players. And they advanced to the 1994 AFCON Finals, where they lost to the tournament favorites Nigeria by 1-2.

11. Nigeria hosting FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1999

It was not until 2010 that the African continent hosted the most prestigious soccer tournament in South Africa. 

Eleven years earlier, Nigeria had hosted the U-20 World Cup, and Spain was the champion. This competition featured stars such as Ronaldinho, Casillas, Simao, and Xavi Hernandez.

10. South Africa hosting World Cup 2010

When South Africa won the bid to host the 2010 World Cup, many doubted their potential. The 2010 World Cup still ranks in the top 5 by average attendance.

9. Senegal beating World Cup holders France in the opening game of World Cup 2002  

Like Cameroon, Senegal was paired in the same group with World Cup holders France. Senegal had a squad of stars playing in the French Ligue 1, so the odds were not as one-sided as that of Argentina vs. Cameroon.

Bruno Metsu lined up Senegal with five (5) at the back, two (2) defensive midfielders with two (2) wingers, and El Hadji Diouf as the lone man upfront. He intended to hit France on the counter, and he succeeded in the 30th minute with Bouba Diop (of blessed memory) converting a cross from El Hadji Diouf into the net. Senegal was composed at the back and gave the French squad a run for their money. 

The final score was 1-0, thanks to Diop’s goals at the half-hour mark.

8. 9-man Cameroon stunning World Cup holders Argentina at the WC 1990 opener

Cameroon shocked the football world by beating Maradona’s Argentina with nine (9) men by 1-0 at the opening game of the World cup. Argentina was the holder of the World Cup after winning it in 1986. With stars like Maradona, Burruchaga, and Rugeri, no pundit had the slightest idea of what the little-known Cameroon squad loaded with home-based players was capable of. 

Cameroon kept Argentina on its toes with limited scoring chances. A questionable Red Card decision 15 minutes into the 2nd half left Cameroonian football fans on the verge of giving up. Seven minutes later, Omam Biyick gave Cameroon the leading and only goal of the game.

With a minute to go in regular playtime, Cameroon received a 2nd red card through Massing Benjamin, but it was too late for Maradona and his gang to get an equalizer. 

History was made as Cameroon was made victorious.

7. Senegal making it to the Quarter Finals of the FIFA World Cup in 2002

A similar story to Cameroon in that they beat the World Cup holders by 1-0 in the opening game, Senegal tied with both Denmark and Uruguay to finish 2nd in the group. After beating Sweden by 2 goals to 1 in the round of 16, Senegal lost to Turkey in the round of 8 from an extra-time goal by Illan Mansiz.

It was the 2nd time an African team made it to the quarter-finals of the WC after Cameroon in 1990.

6. Sadio Mane winning Socrates Award

Arguably Liverpool’s all-time best and one of Africa’s finest talents, Senegalese national and Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane received the Socrates Award for his social engagement. In addition to his exceptional football career, Mane has been very influential in making positive changes through many projects in his home village of Bambali in Senegal.

He has constructed a hospital and a secondary school, as well as, provided financial and moral support to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic within and outside Senegal. Sadio Mane, who recently was second in the 2022 FIFA Ballon D’or rankings, is the first recipient of the prestigious Socrates Award.

5. Cameroon making it to the Quarter Finals of the FIFA World Cup in 1990

After winning a group consisting of World Cup holders Argentina, Romania, and Russia, Cameroon eliminated Colombia in the round of 16 and lost to England in the quarter-finals by 2-3. It was their 2nd participation at the World Cup after being eliminated in the group stage in 1982 without losing a game (3 ties).

It was the first time a team from Africa reached the last 8 of the FIFA World Cup.

4. Cameroon winning the soccer Olympic Gold Medal in 2000

Cameroon won the African cup of Nations in February 2000 by beating Nigeria 4-3 in post-match penalty shootouts after a 2-2 tie.

It was time for the Indomitable Lions to showcase their dominance outside the African continent. 

After making it through the group stage, it was time to meet the Selecao of Brazil with rising stars like Ronaldinho, Alex, and Lucio. 

Cameroon was 1 goal up, and after Geremi, Njitap, and Aaron Nguimbat got sent off later in the 2nd half, Brazil got an equalizer in the 4th minute of additional time. 

Every Cameroon fan had given up, as there was no way Cameroon could withstand the Brazilian squad with just nine players. An exceptional display from the 16-year-old Idris Carlos Kameni kept Cameroon in the game. An individual performance from Mbami Modeste gave Cameroon the winner, and just like in 1996 against Nigeria, Brazil was eliminated by the golden goal rule.

Cameroon came from behind in the semi-finals against Zamorano’s Chile to win 2-1 with goals from Mboma and Etame Mayer. And in the finals against Spain with stars like Xavi, Puyol, Gabri, and Angulo, Cameroon was two (2) goals behind at halftime, with Kameni saving a penalty kick from Angulo.

A tactical change at halftime by coach Jean-Paul Akono changed the dynamics of the game. Playmaker Ngom Kome replaced center-back Aaron Nguimbat, and by the 60th minute, the scoreline was 2-2 with an own goal from Spanish defender Amaya and a 58th-minute equalizer from Samuel Eto’o Fils.

The game went to extra time and penalty shootouts, where Cameroon scored all five (5), and Amaya missed for Spain. 

Cameroon was crowned Olympic Champions. The second time by an African team.

3. Nigeria winning the soccer Olympic Gold Medal in 1996

The Super Eagles won the 1994 AFCON against Zambia and were considered favorites for 1996, but they withdrew for reasons suspected to be political. Their hopes of making it to the Quarter Finals of the World Cup 1994 were shattered by a late equalizer and extra time penalty from Italian legend Roberto Baggio.

The only way Nigeria could prove to the world that their World Cup 94 performance wasn’t a fluke was at the 1996 Olympics hosted by Atlanta (USA). The squad was loaded with superstars such as Jay Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, and Daniel Amokachi, and rising stars like Babayaro and Babangida.

Nigeria came behind from a 3-1 scoreline at halftime to beat Brazil (with Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Bebeto, and Roberto Carlos) and 4-3 in extra time with the golden goal rule still in effect at the time.

The Super Eagles came from behind twice against an Argentina team equipped with Diego Simeone, Javier Zanetti, Crespo, and Ortega to win the gold medal with goals from Babayaro, Amokachi, and Emmanuel Amunike. It was the first time an African team won the gold medal in Olympic football. 

2. Zambia winning the African Cup of Nations in 2012 as Underdogs

Many questioned if Zambia would ever be able to field such a multi-talented squad after the country’s team lost their lives in a Plane crash en route to Morocco for a World Cup qualifier in 1993.

2012 came to be not just one of the greatest stories in African football but in World football.

Zambians, which most pundits predicted wouldn’t make it past the group stage because they had 90% of their playing in the DRC and Zambian Elite football leagues, defeated a fully loaded Ivory Coast side with the likes of Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers (Kolo and Yaya), and Emmanuel Eboue after post-match penalty shootouts.

1. George Weah winning the FIFA Ballon d’Or in 1995

The first and only time the award was won by an African.

It was not until 1995 that non-European players were eligible to win the coveted Ballon d’Or nominees. After a scintillating 1994-95 Champions League season which saw PSG as semifinalists and George Weah top scorer (7 goals). It was no surprise that George Weah was voted the winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or in 1995 ahead of Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann and Ajax’s goal machine Jari Litmanen. He remains the only African to have won the trophy.

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