Data Viz: FIFA Rankings of African National Teams over Time

The data visualization above paints an interesting picture of how the best African nations have fared in the FIFA rankings over time. The ‘Racing Bar Chart’ allows us to put specific periods of dominance into perspective, while also assessing the fall of some traditional powerhouses.
The FIFA rankings were first established in 1992, and have seen significant changes to the ranking methodology implemented in 1999, 2006 and most recently in 2018 as a reaction to criticisms of the system. The initial rankings were quite simplistic, giving one point for a draw and three for a win, modeling a league system. Today, a complex ELO system is used that takes into account expected result, competition level and previous points total.

1990s

Considering the simplicity of the ranking system for this decade, it’s a bit unfair to directly compare the rankings of the 90s to those of today. However, it is interesting to see the likes of Nigeria and Egypt in the first two positions of the initial rankings when you view the results of the 1990 FIFA World Cup and 1992 Africa Cup of Nations.
Cameroon won their World Cup group that included Argentina and the Soviet Union. They defeated Colombia in the Round of 16 before narrowly losing to England in the Quarter-finals. In reaching the final eight they had gone further than any African nation had ever managed in a World Cup before.
On the continental side Ivory Coast won the AFCON, defeating Ghana in the final on penalties. Nigeria defeated Cameroon in the third place match. A potential explanation for Ivory Coast only being fourth is that they only won two out of the five games they played (one draw and two penalty shootout wins).
1994 was a great year for Nigerian football. They were the only African team to reach the World Cup’s knockout stage while also winning that year’s AFCON. Zambia, AFCON runners-up, were the second highest ranked team in Africa at the end of 1994. They rose to the first spot by the next year, while Nigeria had fallen out of the top 10 by 1996.
The second half of the decade saw the rise of South Africa, who won the 1996 AFCON before finishing second in the 1998 edition. They were the number one ranked team at the turn of the millennium.

2000s

After a brief lead by Tunisia, West Africa dominated international football for the majority of the decade. Cameroon won the AFCON in 2000 and in 2002, seeing them reach as high as 14th place in the world in 2002. Senegal, who reached the Quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup were second in Africa, although they fell in the rankings after that, even temporarily dropping out of the top 10 in 2006.
The first half of the decade also saw the reintroduction of Algeria, Gabon and Angola into the top 10, as well as debuts for Guinea and Mali.
Egypt climbed to the top of the rankings in the second half of the decade as they won three straight AFCONs. At the end of the decade they reached as high as 9th in the world rankings.

2010s

The 2010s saw a change of the tide in African football, as North African representatives Algeria and Tunisia occupied spots in the top three from 2010-2014.

Zambia’s 2012 AFCON triumph did not affect their standings much, although Ivory Coast’s consistency during the decade was well-reflected with a high place in the rankings.

Senegal took the lead in 2016, and have not relinquished it since.

Disclaimer: Only the December rankings were used, as collecting 10x as much data was near impossible.
Sources: Wikipedia and FIFA
Visualization made with Flourish