As the years have gone by, there has been a constant rise in the quota of African teams vying for honours at the FIFA World Cup™. Just one team got to have their say between 1970 and 1978. This rose to two from 1982 to 1980, then to three in 1994 and finally to five since 1998.
At first, the continent was dominated by the sides from north Africa - Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria - but they were soon joined on the global stage. Cameroon have been regular performers at the world's greatest tournament since 1982, Nigeria since 1994, while Senegal performed brilliantly in 2002. The spread of talent reached a new level in 2006, when only one of the teams to qualify had previous experience of a FIFA World Cup finals. Further surprises are no doubt likely in the future as more and more nations reach their vast potential.
Senegal upset all the odds in 2002 by finishing top of the hardest FIFA World Cup qualifying pools in the history of African football. Unbeaten at home, the Lions of Teranga lost only to Egypt (1-0) on their travels and picked up valuable draws in Algeria (1-1) and Morocco (0-0) after overcoming them 3-0 and 1-0 respectively at home. When all was said and done, Senegal sat perched on the Group 3 summit with Morocco on 15 points, but progressed due to a better head-to-head record and a better goal difference.
Cameroon's crucial encounter with Morocco in Yaounde on 29 November 1981 is unlikely to be forgotten by the 100,000 ecstatic fans who were there. "The stadium was filled to the rafters," remembers former player Mbida Arantes. "Like an angry river, it was overflowing. People spent the night at the stadium and by 8am it was already impossible to find a ticket. The spirit of the Indomitable Lions was born that day." When the game finally got underway, Arantes kept Moroccan striker Merry Krimau quiet and Cameroon triumphed 2-1, which combined with their 2-0 victory in the first leg earned them their first ever berth in a FIFA World Cup finals.
Zaire caused a shock in 1974 by becoming the first sub-Saharan team to qualify after winning all four of their final-round games against Zambia and Morocco. But even that achievement was put into the shade by the emergence of a new generation of sides in 2006. Togo progressed in Group 1 after their 3-2 victory in Congo kept them two points clear of Senegal, whose 3-0 win over Mali ultimately counted for nothing. Meanwhile, Didier Drogba's Côte d'Ivoire emerged 3-1 winners in Sudan to stay a point ahead of Group 3 rivals Cameroon, who could only draw 1-1 with Egypt at home. Lastly, Angola completed a spectacular 3-0 win in Gabon to finish level with Nigeria on 21 points and graduate courtesy of a better head-to-head analysis (1-0; 1-1).
Cameroon have enjoyed the most success in the African Zone, with their five appearances in the main event outshining Morocco's four and Nigeria's three. All three are pillars of the continental game and they will be more desperate to qualify than ever as the FIFA World Cup visits Africa for the first time in its history.