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Africa's World Cup highs and lows

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Piers Edwards | 13:51 UK time, Thursday, 10 June 2010

If South Africans want an omen in the run-up to Friday's opening clash against Mexico, they can take heart from the most tenuous of facts - that every time an African team has contested the World Cup opener, they have not only won it, but also made it to the quarter-finals.

Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 are the two major highlights of Africa's World Cup adventure, but what about the rest?

And what about the lowlights? Here are my African highs and lows.

TOP 10 HIGHS:

The 1966 boycott: One of the highs was, at the time, a considerable low. With Africa awarded half a place at the World Cup by an intractable FIFA, the continent boycotted the 1966 finals. The drastic protest worked as Africa received its own berth for 1970.

Tunisia 1978: Nearly 50 years after Africa first participated in the World Cup, the continent recorded its first victory as Tunisia beat Mexico 3-1 in Rosario (although the Carthage Eagles haven't won at the World Cup since).

Algeria 1982: Shocks had already rocked the World Cup but no one expected first-timers Algeria to beat the European champions.

Rabah Madjer opened the scoring, West German captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge levelled, leaving it to the great Lakdar Belloumi to seal a late victory. "Germany had very good players but we also had a great team, with lots of experience and talent," says Madjer.

Morocco 1986: The Atlas Lions continued North Africa's pioneering World Cup role when becoming the first Africans into the second round. "Nobody could believe what we'd done because we were taking on Poland, England and Portugal," says goalkeeper Badu Zaki, whose team topped the group unbeaten. "I think our performances persuaded Fifa that Africa deserved more places at the World Cup."

milla_595.jpgAt 42, Roger Milla became the oldest goalscorer in World Cup history

Cameroon 1990: The Indomitable Lions' Italian adventure is Africa's proudest World Cup memory - headlined by Roger Milla's goals and wiggling hips. Sub-Saharan Africa announced it could be a football power when Francois Omam-Biyik's prodigious leap sunk defending champions Argentina 1-0.

Wins over Romania and Colombia followed and in the quarters, Thomas N'Kono, Cyrille Makanaky and co. were just seven minutes away from beating England. No African side has ever been so close to the semi-finals.

Roger Milla: Milla made his mark in 1990 but furthered a personal milestone when netting against Russia at USA '94. The forward had reset the oldest goalscorer mark at 42 years - a World Cup record that will surely never be broken.

Nigeria 1994: Packing power and flair, the Super Eagles routed Bulgaria 3-0 - Rashidi Yekini pumping his fists through the net in celebration - while Daniel Amokachi netted a screamer against Greece.

Nigeria were then two minutes from the quarter-finals until ten-man Italy equalised. "It's a shame we didn't realise how good we were, as we lacked experience," says Jay-Jay Okocha. "But 1994 helped us win the 1996 Olympics."

Nigeria 1998: The Super Eagles are the only African side to twice reach the knock-outs. The highlight here was the 3-2 win over Spain, lit up by Sunday Oliseh's sweet 25-yard half-volley. Okocha was also in sublime form, dazzling with his tricks and flicks.

Senegal 2002: Lightning struck twice as an unfancied African side defeated the reigning champions 1-0 in the opening game - Senegal's humbling of former colonialists France inspired by El Hadji Diouf's thrilling display.

Draws with Denmark and Uruguay, and a knock-out defeat of Sweden, took the Teranga Lions into the quarters, where they lost to Turkey. "The only game we prepared for like people wanted us to - having lunch, staying in your room, looking at the ceiling etc. - was the one we lost because mentally we'd already played the game," laments midfielder Salif Diao.

Fifa's Rotation Policy: 15 March 2001 was one of African football's most momentous days for Fifa, who had decided to rotate the World Cup the year before, chose the continent to start the new system in 2010. Of course, 15 May 2004 is more celebrated in South Africa as that was the day the World Cup hosts won the bid.

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THE LOWS:

Zaire 74: This display was a disaster as the African champions played three and lost three (scoring 0, conceding 14). In addition, Mwepu Ilunga showed scant regard for the rules when kicking away an opponents' free-kick. He's since claimed he was trying to get sent off in protest at the federation withholding money from the squad. "I knew the rules very well but the referee was lenient and only gave me a yellow."

Togo 2006: Bonuses have been the bugbear of many African campaigns but the Hawks took things to a new level when becoming the first team to threaten to boycott a World Cup match.

With the FA refusing to pay the agreed amount, the players were set to sit out the Switzerland tie until Fifa guaranteed them funds. Later on, Fifa fined the Togolese FA for behaviour 'unworthy of a World Cup participant'.

The 'Shame of Gijon', Spain 1982: This setback denied Algeria an historic place in the second round. Since they'd already played, group rivals West Germany and Austria knew a narrow German win in their contest would take both sides through.

After the Germans' early goal, both sides made little attempt to score - sparking public outcry and Fifa to ensure that all final group ties were played simultaneously from then on. "We were tricked out of qualification but the anger has gone now," says Madjer.

The Big-Name Absences: Africans decry the failure of Liberia's George Weah, Ghana's Abedi Pele and Mali's Salif Keita. On this occasion, many fans are also dismayed by the absence of a team, six-time African champions Egypt, meaning Ahmed Hassan and Mohamed Aboutreika will be sorely missed.

The Quarter-Final Barrier: Despite winning the U17 World Cup, the U20 World Cup and the Olympic Games, Africa has never won the World Cup - nor reached the last four. Can the continent's first World Cup rewrite history?

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