African football legend Roger Milla believes sides from the continent can excel at the upcoming World Cup finals in Qatar as long as they have genuine self-confidence and belief.
Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco and Tunisia will join African champions Senegal at the tournament, which will take place in the Arab world for the first time.
The action gets under way on 20 November when the hosts play Ecuador, with the final on 18 December.
“Now is a good time to show that Africa has the best football players and the best teams in the world,” the 70-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.
“We have to make our players understand that we can compete with the biggest teams. We have everything to compete with them.
“It’s up to us to get to work. We struggled for a few years but I’ve seen African football develop a lot. Now it’s time and we will see in Qatar.”
Former Cameroon striker Milla featured in three World Cups, rising to global fame at the 1990 finals in Italy when he scored four goals at the age of 38 to help his country become the first African side to reach the quarter-finals.
Senegal and Ghana matched that feat in the 2002 and 2010 World Cup tournaments respectively.
The last eight is the furthest any African team has gone and Milla thinks that landmark can be bettered, even if he admits it will be tough to lift the trophy itself.
“We are a continent blessed with great footballers – we can go further than the quarter-finals. But I’ve always said that for an African country to win the World Cup, it’s hard work first of all [that is needed].
“It’s discipline and organisation. If we look at other countries today, we are at their level in football but we now have to be well-organised [too].
“I am very happy that Cameroon led the way and showed the world that Africa has teams that can compete with the greatest in the world.
“It’s not just Cameroon, Senegal or Ghana – there are other countries that can represent our continent proudly.”
Senegal, who won this year’s Africa Cup of Nations and feature Ballon d’Or runner-up Sadio Mane, face hosts Qatar, the Netherlands and Ecuador in Group A while Tunisia will take on defending champions France, Denmark and Australia in Group D.
Morocco’s Atlas Lions have been drawn with 2018 runners-up Croatia, Belgium and Canada while Cameroon will play five-time winners Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland.
Ghana, the lowest-ranked side at the finals at 61st in the world, compete against Portugal, South Korea and Uruguay – the team that prevented them from becoming the first African side to reach the World Cup semi-final stage at the 2010 finals in South Africa.
Dancing his way to history
Milla gained global recognition and entered the World Cup’s history books with his feats at the 1990 finals in Italy, where he scored four goals as Cameroon reached the last eight.
Aged 38, he netted two goals against Romania in a 2-1 win in the group stage, and followed it up with another remarkable two goals against Colombia in extra-time in the round of 16 to progress to the quarter-final where they lost to England 3-2, again after an added 30 minutes.
“I wanted to take Cameroon as far as possible in the World Cup. We could have gone even further in the competition but that’s how football works,” Milla said.
“I was just doing my job, a citizen’s job, an African footballer’s job. I tried to honour the African continent, Cameroon and its people.
“I wanted to make sure that for the next World Cup, the other countries know that there is a country to count on and that country is Cameroon.”
While becoming the oldest goalscorer in the tournament’s history in 1994, when netting against Russia, Milla also caught the eye in 1990 with his memorable goal celebrations, running to the corner flag where he performed a dance.
His inclusion in the Indomitable Lions’ squad for the Italy-based finals was a result of a last-minute request from Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, who coaxed him out of international retirement.
“With the dance, I didn’t plan it. I wanted to dance with the fans and with the people who supported me,” Milla said.
“I was 38 years old. This is an age at which players today can no longer play football so I wanted to celebrate with people who encouraged me, and especially President Biya.
“He picked me to be with my fellow citizens, with my brothers. I imagined this dance during the game just for fun, for everyone, for Cameroon and for all the footballers and football lovers.”
People know Milla ‘did wonders’
Milla had made his World Cup debut in 1982 in Spain, in Cameroon’s first ever appearance at the finals, where the central Africans went out in the group stage after drawing games against Peru, Poland and Italy.
After his heroics in 1990, he scored a consolation goal in the 6-1 defeat at the hands of Russia at the 1994 World Cup, extending his record as the oldest goalscorer at the finals.
That appearance in the United States, aged 42 years and 39 days, also made him the oldest outfield player to appear at the tournament.
Although Milla declines to pick one moment as his favourite at the tournament, he knows his achievements have sealed his place in football history.
“My best memory is playing in all those World Cups – all these moments accelerated my progression in football,” he said.
“Those moments also showed not only the people of Cameroon but all the African people that there was a certain player called Roger Milla in Cameroon at the time, and he did wonders.
“The footage is there to tell that I served football.
“Kids who will be born maybe 10 years from now will know that there was a footballer in Cameroon called Roger Milla.”