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The definitive 4-step guide to African success at the World Cup

By sifting through historical precedent, we have come up with an almost foolproof formula for African success at the World Cup

Sportfoto Rudel

As far as making a mark at the World Cup, it is safe to say that African teams do not have the best track record.

Sure, there have been spots of success here and there, most famously with Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana making it to within a goal of the semi-finals in 1990, 2002 and 2010 respectively. However, for the most part, it has been a tale of woe: the last two editions especially have seen no real strides made in terms of raising the bar.

So, ahead of the Mundial in Qatar, here is a handy little guide, based on history, for Africa’s five participants. These are based on historical trends, of course – think of them as ‘Key Points’ drawn from ‘Past Questions and Answers’.

Some of these will not hold true in every situation, of course. Nevertheless, you can rest assured that, if you follow these carefully, you have a better-than-even chance of making the fans happy back home.

By way of clarification, we define success within the context of African participation as qualifying through to the knockout stage and winning at least two matches in a Mundial. There is a slight exception made here for 1982 Algeria, who for all intents and purposes did enough to progress past the group stage, only to be thwarted by the Shame of Gijon. (Sorry to Algeria and Nigeria from 2014 then, both of whom exited in the Round of 16, but only won one match apiece in doing so.)

Losing under any circumstance is certainly not helpful. That goes without saying. However, it can be particularly difficult to bounce back from an opening day defeat.

Of Africa’s successful representatives, only Ghana have lost their opening match at a World Cup and gone on to find success in that same edition. That was in 2006, when the Black Stars fell 2-0 to eventual winners Italy, courtesy of goals by Andrea Pirlo and Vincenzo Iaquinta.

Ratomir Dujkovic’s side powered through that disappointment, winning their next two matches to advance to the knockout stage in their maiden World Cup appearance.

So, this is one of those statistical quirks that cannot really be explained with any sort of logic. But, it appears that playing a country that has previously been a world champion boosts your chances of having a good tournament.

In 1982, Algeria faced (and beat) Germany, Cameroon upset Argentina in 1990, Nigeria kicked off their abusive World Cup relationship with Argentina in 1994, Ghana faced Italy in 2006 and Germany in 2010, and Senegal stunned France in 2002.

Another one of those that cannot really be justified logically, so this falls more under the statistical quirk category. However, it appears that being drawn in Group D greatly improves your chances of progression if you are an African team.

Of Africa’s seven successes at the Mundial, three of the beneficiaries (Nigeria in 1994 and 1998, Ghana in 2010) were drawn in Group D. Good news for Tunisia then, who will not have a better chance of progressing to the Round of 16 than in Qatar, where they are drawn with France, Denmark and the yet-to-be-determined winner of the AFC-CONMEBOL playoff. (As a plus, there is a World Cup winner in there, wink wink.)

If that fails, then Group B is your next best bet: both Algeria in 1982 and Cameroon in 1990 played out of that group, to good effect.

This one should be obvious, but it really is not a good idea to have an overreliance on a particular individual when it comes to finding the back of the net. Not if you are an African side anyway.

This broadly makes sense, as the more goal scorers there are, the more sustainable the process is. On the other hand, pinning too much on one player can mean that, in that player's absence, toothlessness in attack is the result.

No successful African World Cup team has ever had less than four goal scorers. Here’s a rundown: Algeria in 1982 (5 goals, 4 scorers), Cameroon in 1990 (7 goals, 4 scorers), Nigeria in 1994 (8 goals, 5 scorers), Nigeria in 1998 (6 goals, 5 scorers), Senegal in 2002 (7 goals, 4 scorers), Ghana in 2006 (4 goals, 4 scorers), Ghana in 2010 (5 goals, 4 scorers).

The only nations to keep this rule but still fall short were South Africa, who were desperately unfortunate in 2002 despite having five different goal scorers; Cote d’Ivoire in 2006 and 2010, who had four different goal scorers but were drawn in the groups of death; Algeria had five goal scorers in 2014, but only won one match; and Tunisia, who had four in 2018.

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