The hopes of a continent rest on Ghana's shoulders

A poor showing by Africa's six sides has brought into question how many berths should be made available. A look at the past performances, both good and ugly.

Papa Bouba Diop of Senegal scores the winning goal against France as goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, Emmanuel Petit and a grounded Marcel Desailly of France look on in the 2002 World Cup.
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There has been a growing clamour for Fifa to cut the quota of World Cup berths available to Africa due to the poor showing by their sides at the first tournament to be staged in the continent. Despite that backdrop, Ghana have a chance of achieving something unprecedented as they bid to reach the semi-finals when they meet Uruguay at Soccer City on Friday. No African side has made it to the last four in the previous 18 tournaments. However, the Black Stars can still find some encouragement in the past exploits of their continental neighbours, if they look closely enough at the history books.

Senegal, 2002 Little was known about the Senegal side that arrived in Japan and South Korea in 2002, other than the fact they had a useful striker by the name of El-Hadji Diouf.

The then African Player of the Year managed to enhance his reputation by way of Senegal's unexpectedly strong showing in their debut World Cup - and he was not alone. A clutch of hitherto unknown Senegal players, including the likes of Salif Diao, Khalilou Fadiga, and Papa Bouba Diop - who scored the winner in the opening-night upset of France - were handed relatively lucrative deals with European clubs.

Diouf was definitely the star of their march to the quarter-finals, however. He earned a move to Liverpool, and went on to appear on the front cover of the UK's biggest selling football magazine, under the headline "I am the greatest". Although he never quite reached the heights expected, Diouf has enjoyed a lengthy career in England, where he is most noted for being a regular target of the ire of opposing fans.

Cameroon, 1990 Although Francois Omam-Biyik really announced Cameroon as a presence on the world stage by heading them to victory against Argentina in the opening game of Italia '90, the country did already have some pedigree at that level. The Indomitable Lions went through their first trip to a World Cup undefeated in 1982. However, their three draws in Spain were deemed by the Western press to be a lucky escape from potential embarrassment, rather than any significant achievement.

The were not given a chance of retaining their unbeaten finals record when they arrived at San Siro to face Diego Maradona's Argentina, the defending champions, in 1990. Their players were little known, and they were managed by Valeri Nepomniachi, a Russian who needed an interpreter to communicate with his French-speaking players. However, Omam-Biyik's lone header was enough to down the holders. They then beat Romania to secure their advance from the group.

They became the first nation from their continent to reach the quarter-finals when they profited from a meltdown by Rene Higuita, the enigmatic goalkeeper, to beat Colombia. In so doing, they provided the World Cup with perhaps its most famous goal celebration, that of the hip-wiggling, 38-year-old striker, Roger Milla. They were only seven minutes away from beating England and reaching the semi-finals, before giving away two penalties to lose 3-2.

Algeria, 1982 Algeria's best World Cup campaign was a bittersweet experience - and the sourness of their exit from Spain is still felt to this day. "It was what we called the match of shame," Lakhdar Belloumi, one of the stars of that Algeria side, said more than 20 years after the event. Belloumi, a midfielder who is often called Algeria's finest player, was referring to the match between the European neighbours West Germany and Austria, which sealed his own nation's demise.

"The Germans and Austrians played an arrangement to eliminate us by goal difference," he said. Indeed, many openly suspected foul play when a sedentary game resulted in the precise scoreline - 1-0 to West Germany - which meant both sides went through on goal difference, at Algeria's expense. All had been looking so rosy for the Desert Warriors, after they had stunned the football world when they beat the Germans 2-1. There was a legacy to the controversy. Ever since, the final group matches at the World Cup have been played at the same time to avoid a recurrence of that kind of incident.

Zaire, 1974 The year 1974 could have been a vintage one for sport in Zaire. Their football team won the African Cup of Nations, then became the first from sub-Saharan Africa to compete at the World Cup finals. A few months later, heavyweight boxers Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fought "The Rumble in the Jungle", in Kinshasa.

All of which would have combined for the sort of publicity Mobutu Sese Seko, the despot president, had been seeking for his nation - had the footballers not proved so woefully inept in Germany. If an opening 2-0 loss to Scotland was bad, the subsequent 9-0 thrashing by Yugoslavia was disastrous. The official line was that it was all the fault of Zoran Vidinic, Zaire's Yugoslavian coach, but the players begged to differ.

They claimed they had downed tools in protest at having their wages stolen by the football federation. "We got back home without a penny in our pockets. Now, I'm living like a tramp," Mwepu Ilunga, the full-back, later told the BBC. Ilunga did find lasting fame, however. He was the defender who earned himself a yellow card when he broke from the defensive wall in their final match against Brazil and booted the ball clear - before the Brazilians had a chance to take their free-kick.