The Super Eagles of Nigeria have made five previous World Cups, qualifying for every tournament since 1994 inclusive, with the exception of 2006, when they were pipped by Angola during qualification.
On three occasions, they’ve qualified from the group stage, falling to Italy, Denmark and France in 1994, 1998 and 2014 respectively, all in tight encounters.
Perhaps their greatest World Cup display was their maiden appearance in the United States, when the Golden Generation finally ended the Super Eagles’ wait for a ticket to football’s high table.
Their 3-0 victory over Bulgaria was an outstanding display of attacking football, and Rashidi Yekini’s 21st-minute opener and subsequent celebration ranks among the most iconic moments in the history of the African game.
It wasn’t the last time the West African giants were to contribute one of the tournament’s most memorable moments, as Sunday Oliseh secured one of the finest results for one of the continent’s teams at the World Cup when his 78th-minute thunderbolt settled a rollercoaster 3-2 victory over Spain in Nantes four years later.
The likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu were present in 2002, although it was Vincent Enyeama who stole the plaudits after he kept England at bay in a 0-0 draw. The Cat would also repeat his heroics against La Albiceleste – and Lionel Messi – when the two nations were pooled together for the fourth time in Brazil.
Africa’s World Cup draw history
Africa’s teams will be hoping for a favourable World Cup draw on Friday at the Kremlin in Moscow as they go into the hat to be split into eight groups of four teams each.
Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia are in Pot 3 for the draw, while Morocco and Nigeria are in Pot 4. FIFA’s general principle is to ensure that no group has more than one team from the same qualification zone drawn in it, but with Europe’s 14 teams in the draw, there will be some groups with more than one European team.
African sides have been placed in the same group as the defending champions on five occasions — in 1974, 1978, 1990, 1998 and 2002 — while countries that have been grouped with an African side the most at the World Cup are Argentina, Brazil, and Germany.
The first African team at a World Cup was Egypt in 1934, but back then the finals in Italy — only the second ever — was nothing like the structured affair it is today. Then it was a straight knockout, and Egypt were paired against Hungary in Naples and lost 4-2.
The subsequent draws for the African finalists were:
The was draw held in January of 1970 at a Mexico City hotel without any seeding, although FIFA had initially hinted they would do so. Instead, the 16 finalists were divided into four ‘geographical groupings’, which also took into account the teams’ strengths and even political considerations. Morocco had threatened to withdraw from the tournament if they were grouped with Israel, as they had done at the Olympic football tournament in Mexico City two years earlier. The 10-year-old daughter of Guillermo Cañedo, President of the Mexican Football Federation and the Local Organising Committee, drew out the teams from four silver cups, with Morocco grouped with West Germany (runners-up in 1966), Bulgaria and Peru. The north Africans finished bottom with one point.
1974 (West Germany)
The draw was done in a radio studio in Frankfurt, with Zaire in Pot 4, the ‘rest of the world’ grouping. They were drawn with world champions Brazil and two European countries — Scotland and Yugoslavia, the home country of the African team’s coach Blagoje Vidinic. The expected resultant fallout when the Yugoslavs handed the Leopards a humiliating 9-0 thrashing came to pass.
Tunisia were in Pot 4 for the draw in Buenos Aires, and were drawn with 1974 winners West Germany, Mexico and Poland. Their first two games were in Rosario and the last against the Germans in Cordoba. Tunisia’s 3-1 win over Mexico in their opening Group 2 game was the first time an African team had won a match at the World Cup finals.
The Madrid Congress Palace played host to the draw in January 1982, the last time it happened that close to the start of the tournament. The numbers in the World Cup were increased from 16 to 24, meaning Africa had two representatives for the first time in Algeria and Cameroon. Algeria were handed Austria and West Germany and Chile, and despite winning two of three game,s still didn’t qualify for the next stage. Cameroon played with Peru, Poland and Italy in Group 1 and failed to progress only because they scored fewer goals than Italy in what would have been a massive upset.
The first-ever December draw was in a TV studio in Mexico City, less than three months after a massive earthquake had devastated many parts of the city and put the tournament in doubt. Algeria were back and this time drew Brazil, Northern Ireland and Spain, finishing last in Group D with just a single point. Morocco were in Group F with three European countries — England, Poland and Portugal — and upset the odds to finish top of the standings and become the first African side to advance past the opening round.
The teams were seeded on past performance in, primarily, the 1986 World Cup, with the 1982 World Cup also considered as a secondary influence. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon were among the list of second seeds, with Egypt in Pot 1. The draw was conducted at the Palazzetto dello Sport in Rome, at a ceremony featuring Italian actress Sophia Loren, with opera singer Luciano Pavarotti conducting the draw alongside FIFA general secretary Sepp Blatter. Cameroon’s other opponents were Romania and the Soviet Union. Egypt had to play in Sardinia with England, Ireland and the Netherlands in a tough group.
The draw was in Las Vegas, the first time in a city that was not hosting any games, and featured comedian Robin Williams, who kept making fun of draw master Blatter, calling him “Mr. Bladder” and putting on a surgical glove and saying to Blatter, “If you’ll turn your head to the side and cough” before drawing the teams. Africa’s representation went up to three teams with Nigeria debuting, alongside Cameroon and Morocco. Cameroon were in Group B with Brazil, Sweden and Russia and finished last. Nigeria were top of Group D ahead of Argentina, Bulgaria and Greece. Morocco played in the extreme heat in Orlando for games against Belgium and the Netherlands, and were also beaten by Saudi Arabia in New York.
Marseille’s Stade Velodrome was the first stadium to host a World Cup finals draw with 32 teams in the pots, with Africa’s representation up to five. Debutants South Africa became the first to be placed in the same group with the hosts and also had Denmark and Saudi Arabia. Morocco were with holders Brazil in Group A, as well as Norway and Scotland. It was the fourth time an African country had been drawn with Brazil. In Group B, Cameroon finished last behind Italy, Chile and Austria, while Nigeria finished top of Group D ahead of Bulgaria, Paraguay and Spain. In Group G, Tunisia finished last behind Romania, England and Colombia.
2002 (Japan and South Korea)
Senegal were drawn to play holders France in the opening game in Seoul and caused a sensational upset before going on to reach the last eight and emulate Cameroon’s achievement of 1990. Also in Group A were Denmark and Uruguay. The other African placements, made at the draw in Busan, saw South Africa with Spain, Paraguay and Slovenia, whom Bafana beat. Cameroon were in Group E with Germany, Ireland and Saudi Arabia, while Nigeria were handed a horror draw with Argentina, England and Sweden, who were surprisingly top of the table in Group F. Tunisia had one of the two host countries in Japan, as well as Belgium and Russia.
The draw was done in the Trade Fair Hall in Leipzig in the former East Germany in a symbolic move to represent the country’s unification. It was a first visit for the Ivory Coast, who were given a rude induction at the draw with Argentina, the Netherlands and Serbia. It was a dream draw for Angola though, against Portugal plus Iran and Mexico in Group D. Ghana were also competing for the first time, and advanced in a group with Italy, the Czech Republic and the USA. Togo faced France, Switzerland and South Korea in Group G, and lost all their games. Tunisia did not have much more luck in Group H against Spain and the Ukraine, but did get a draw with Saudi Arabia.
2010 (South Africa)
The draw for South Africa’s World Cup was held in Cape Town, with actress Charlize Theron providing much glamour after FIFA reportedly paid her more than $1-million to appear at the ceremony. The first-ever African hosts were drawn to open the tournament at Soccer City against Mexico and also played Uruguay and France, who had been runners-up four years earlier. Nigeria flopped in Group B as they finished last behind Argentina, Greece and South Korea. It was tough going for the Ivorians again in another stiff group as they had to deal with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. Cameroon were last in their group behind the Netherlands, Japan and Denmark, while Ghana advanced behind Germany and ahead of Australia and Serbia.
The draw took place at the Costa do Sauípe resort in Bahia, during which the teams were drawn by various past World Cup-winning players. Brazil got an African country in their group for a sixth time, with strife-ridden Cameroon having another horror tournament and finishing last in Group A, where they also played Croatia and Mexico. The Ivory Coast were unlucky to again finish third in a group with Colombia, Greece and Japan. Nigeria again had Argentina in their group and both went through ahead of Bosnia and Iran. It was also a sixth time that Argentina had an African country in their opening round group as it was for Germany, who topped Group G from the USA, Portugal and Ghana. Algeria were paired with Belgium, Russia and South Korea.