Football (soccer) in Africa

Become an African Football Aficionado

Boy playing football in South Africa
Alistair Berg/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Football in Africa is followed passionately from Morocco on down to South Africa. You'll know when an important football match is being played in Africa because the country you are visiting will literally come to a standstill. Everywhere you go in Africa you'll see young boys kicking around a football. Sometimes the ball will be made of plastic bags with string wrapped around it, sometimes it will be made of crumpled up paper. As long as it can be kicked, there will be a game.


Getting to Know African Soccer

African Football Superstars
Familiarize yourself with the current African super stars of football. Some good names to drop in casual conversation about soccer would include: Asamoah Gyan (Ghana), Michael Essien (Ghana), Austin 'Jay-Jay' Okocha (Nigeria), Samuel Eto'o Fils (Cameroon), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast) and Obafemi Martins (Nigeria). 

European Football Clubs
Every African player that's any good quickly find themselves being lured to Europe with the promise of more money and better training, some end up cleaning streets instead. (Even FIFA recognizes that false promises to African boys with promise is an issue). Consequently Africans have to follow European football to get to see their own players. There are currently more than 1000 Africans playing for European clubs. The televised matches and the radio broadcasts from the European leagues is also of much better quality than anything broadcast locally.

Plus people just enjoy a good game of soccer and it's played awfully well in Europe.

It's a Male Thing
Football is really a male thing in Africa. You won't see a lot of girls kicking a ball around in village. Nor will women be that interested in chatting about the latest European superstars. Women in Africa are usually too busy working while their men are watching or listening to football matches (which holds true for my family in Europe as well). But women's football is making some strides on the continent. There is an African Women's Championship held every 2 years which doesn't get a lot of publicity.

The Nigerian women represented the continent in the 2007 Women's World Cup held in Beijing from September 10 - 30. The 2011 Women's World Cup took place in Germany where Africa was represented by Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.

Witchcraft and Football
Don't comment on the use of witchcraft and football especially in sub-Saharan Africa, it's a bit of a sore point. If you get a chance to see a football match in a stadium you may be surprised to see teams urinating on the pitch or even slaughtering a goat. Witchcraft is a sensitive subject in Africa especially among the more educated people. Publicly witchcraft is often scorned as mere superstition but its use is still very widespread. Hence you have football officials trying to stamp out the practice at least at the major tournaments.

Although, as Cameroon found out in 2012, it doesn't always work to get you a spot in the qualifying rounds of a big tournament.

Top African Teams and Their Nicknames
The top 5 African teams are: Nigeria (The Super Eagles), Cameroon (The Indomitable Lions), Senegal (The Lions of Teranga), Egypt (The Pharaohs) and Morocco (Lions of Atlas). Nigeria and Cameroon have a long standing football rivalry similar to that of Brazil and Argentina. 



Upcoming football events:

  • Africa Cup of Nations 2015 will be held in Equatorial Guinea. The 2013 tournament was held in South Africa. The host countries automatically qualified, in this case it should have been Morocco, but they bowed out due to the Ebola scare. The Africa Cup of Nations is normally held every two years.
  • The African Champions League is an annual competition for African football clubs (as opposed to national teams) and it's run by CAF (Confederation of African Football). The competition is not quite as popular as some of the European leagues which are watched closely in Africa, but nationalism takes over during the finals which are held at the end of October and mid November. Click here for the 2010 scheduled games and final results. The 2010 champion was TP Mazembe of the DRC who beat Tunisia's Esperance.


Want to Know More About African Football?

  • Read Africa United by Steve Bloomfield.
  • The BBC probably has the most comprehensive coverage of African Football. It follows African players abroad as well as leagues and news from within the continent.
  • The CAF (Confederation of African Football) has an official web site which provides information on the various competitions out there. It also has some good information on local leagues and youth teams.
  • Sports Scheduler a South African web site has a very good collection of links to national team web sites as well as local clubs from Algeria to Morocco.