African football has been on the rise for years, but there are certain moments when people all over the globe stood up and took notice of the continent's contribution to the game
By Peter Pedroncelli
African players grace football pitches the world over, and the appreciation they receive has grown due to their impact throughout the top championships, including those of the Italian Serie A, Spain's La Liga and the English Premier League, amongst many others.
There are certain moments where the spotlight has been firmly fixed on the African game. Some players have broken records, while others won awards or formed part of teams which changed public opinion with regards to African football.
Below, Goal.com runs through the 10 moments that put African football firmly on the map.
|10. Unknown Senegal defeat World & Euro champions France
An exciting moment for Africa, few would have expected an upset in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup between defending champions France and little known Senegal. The Teranga Lions had a point to prove, however, with many of their players employed in the French Ligue 1 alongside a number of their illustrious opponents.
The game ended 1-0 in favour of the Senegalese, who had gained the respect and love of neutral supporters throughout the world, while uniting African fans all over the continent as Senegalese sympathisers for the duration of the tournament and beyond.
The west Africans went on to equal Cameroon's record of a quarter-final finish at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, remaining undefeated until a 1-0 golden goal loss to Turkey at the last eight stage.
In so doing they carved a place for that national team in World Cup history - a place that is still yet to be overshadowed by another African side, though Ghana came bitterly close at the 2010 event in South Africa.
|9. Abedi Pele wins 1993 Uefa Champions League with Marseille
Abedi Pele is known as one of Ghana and Africa's greatest ever players, and one of the reasons for that perception is the fact that he was successful in Europe with his French club, Marseille.
Africa’s appetite for football is unrivalled, particularly for the top leagues in Europe where most of its best players develop, but the Ghanaian legend was one of Africa's first real superstars to do well in the top competitions and Uefa Champions League, proving instrumental in leading Marseille to the final of the Champions League.
In 1993 he made the entire African continent proud when he won the elite club competition with his French team, defeating the mighty Milan 1-0 in the final. It was the first time that a French team had won the European Cup, and no French side has repeated that feat since.
The number 10 on that day for the victors was Abedi Pele, and he became a European champion following his man of the match performance for the Ligue 1 outfit.
|8. George Weah wins European and World Footballer of the Year awards
George Weah followed in the footsteps of Abedi Pele in finding fame and success during his career in Europe. The strong and skilful striker was supremely gifted, and his talent did not go unnoticed. In 1995, he was named Fifa World Player of the Year, European Footballer of the Year, and African Footballer of the Year.
This trio of personal accolades put African football on the map by acting as a catalyst for the interest that European clubs developed for African players, realising that Weah was one of many players on the continent with potential, and leading to modern football in Europe, which is now home to many African stars.
|7. Nigeria win Africa's first Olympic football gold medal|
It was one of the most enduring football memories as the Dream Team cruised to victory over all other sides at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. The Nigerians, led by Nwankwo Kanu, confounded all opponents, including the mighty Brazil and Argentina to win the first football gold medal for Africa. Four years earlier, Ghana were the first African team to reach the podium when they won bronze in Barcelona.
Nigeria triumphed against all odds, coming from two goals down to defeat Brazil 4-3 in semi-final extra time as well as a 3-2 defeat of Argentina in the final.
The football world was wowed as the young Eagles showed true class to put Africa on the world map. Many Africans celebrated the unprecedented triumph. Four years later, Cameroon continued the trend by winning the gold medal in Sydney.
|6. South Africa win the right to host the 2010 World Cup
In 2004 South Africa won the right to host the 2010 World Cup, meaning that the football showpiece would be staged on the continent for the first time in its illustrious history.
After losing out to Germany for the 2006 hosting rights, the South Africans were not prepared to let the 2010 event slip between their fingers. The bid was successful thanks to the hard work of many people, including Dr Danny Jordaan and his team, while former president Nelson Mandela's influence was key to the Rainbow Nation being considered in the first place.
The announcement was an important development in Africa's growth in the eyes of the world, and yet another moment when the continent was thrust into the football spotlight.
|5. Ghana Under-20 side win the 2009 World Youth Championships
The Black Satellites took on the world and returned to Ghana triumphant, following a penalty shoot-out victory over a fiercely competitive Brazil.
The U20 side was able to defeat England 4-0 in the group stages, before drawing 2-2 with Uruguay and making short work of South Africa, South Korea and Hungary in the knockout stages.
The final against the Brazilians seemed a step too far for many experts ahead of the encounter, but the Ghanaians once again showed incredible heart and determination to keep the South Americans from scoring in normal time, forcing penalties and going on to record a stunning 4-3 shoot-out victory.
It was the first time an African country won the Fifa U20 World Championship, and many of the stars of that junior side have gone on to become success stories with the full national team, the Black Stars.
|4. South Africa pull off a wonderful 2010 World Cup
Despite the doubts and media speculation that an African country would not be able to hold such a grand event, the Rainbow Nation hosted a fantastic World Cup and those who travelled to the country for the tournament were left in awe of its beauty and the friendliness of its people.
The organisation was excellent, the matches well presented, stadiums top class and the local supporters warm and welcoming. The 2010 World Cup went down in history as Africa's first in terms of hosting, and was fundamental in changing perceptions of the continent as a whole.
The event put Africa on the map for its ability to host the world with diligence and passion, while Ghana came within inches of progressing to the semi-finals of the tournament, which would have been a record for Africa, as Uruguay and Luis Suarez's hand kept the Black Stars from a famous victory.
|3. TP Mazembe reach the final of the 2010 Club World Cup
The Corbeaux were by no means favourites to reach the final of the 2010 Club World Cup, but they were able to defeat the odds and teams from North and South America to earn themselves a spot against European Champions Inter in the final of the tournament.
Despite losing in the ultimate match, TP Mazembe gained invaluable experience and showed the watching world that African football at club and national team level can no longer be ignored on the global stage.
Mazembe gained many more supporters throughout the world due to their impressive showing at the tournament, and their legacy means that future African representatives in the CWC will not be underestimated.
|2. Realising how important African players are to European football
Europe is the playground of many of the world's best teams and players. But for many people, there was a moment in the not so distant past, where the importance of Africa's finest in the various European leagues would have been clearly understood.
Whether it be Didier Drogba lighting up the Champions League final, Kevin-Prince Boateng contributing to Milan's Serie A success or the countless other stars from the continent making their mark on the English Premier League, German Bundesliga or Ligue 1, the realisation of Africa's imprint on world football cannot be denied.
Players such as Andre Ayew and Alexander Song reveal that the future is bright for Africans in Europe, and that trend is set to continue for a long time to come.
|1. Cameroon and Roger Milla at Italia 90
The image of a 38-year-old Roger Milla dancing at the corner flag after yet another goal for Cameroon is pleasantly burnt into the minds and hearts of many football fans, African and otherwise.
The exploits of the Indomitable Lions in that World Cup provided one of the first moments when supporters from all over the world took notice of Africa, watching them beat defending champions Argentina, before going on to the quarter-finals of the competition - a new record for an African national team, which is yet to be surpassed, though Senegal and Ghana have since equalled the feat.
Roger Milla's contribution to the images that were beamed around the world cannot be discounted, and neither can the efforts of the colourful Cameroonian fans who made the journey to Italy in support of their national team heroes.
That World Cup, and more specifically those Indomitable Lions, provided an African reference point in the world's favourite sport that would forever endear fans to the continent and its football.