It is pretty much sudden death in the African qualifiers. After this weekend’s round of final group games, 10 teams are left standing – Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Tunisia (Cape Verde), Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal.
Going through the list, some names pretty much pick themselves (no surprises there), others, you may have to wash your face with water from Cape Agulhas where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. But there were many intriguing games, group deciders in actual fact.
The weekend started off in Kumasi where it was the Black Stars of Ghana coming up against the Chipolopolo of Zambia. This game had more subplots than you would find in Forest Whitaker’s “The Last King of Scotland”. In truth, the game itself did not live up to expectations despite being set-up beautifully by off-field antics by both teams. There was lots of verbal/psychological warfare culminating in the Zambian team arriving only a day before the game. Oh and how could I have forgotten the “twitter war” between Ghana and Zambian fans? This had the making of a cracker. However at the end of 90 minutes, it was more a less a comfortable 2-1 win for the Black Stars with goals in each half from Majid Warris and Juventus Midfielder, Kwadwo Asamoah. Zambia got a consolation through Nathan Sinkala.
South African football has to take a hard long look at itself. For a country that boasts of some of the best football facilities and the richest league on the continent not to mention that they were hosts of the last World Cup, it is quite embarrassing that they were beaten to the top qualifying spot by an Ethiopian side making a re-entry into continental football in over 30 years. It is simply a big shame, especially if you are South African. For Ethiopia, it is more than they could dream of. It was in their hands really, despite being deducted points, for fielding an ineligible player in a previous qualifier. But most of the work had been done and they only needed to win their final group A game against the Central African Republic. Quite ironic that it was the same player at the centre of the “ineligibility” row who dealt the final blow to South African hopes. Minyahile Teshome’s 65th minute strike proved to be the winner at a time where South Africa was leading 4-1 against Botswana. Christmas came early in Addis Ababa.
This is how the BBC’s John Bennet captured it “Still shocked Cape Verde got through. Amazing story. No grass pitches, a population of just 500,000 – now 180 minutes away from the World Cup”. Indeed Cape Verde’s steady rise to the summit of African football bears some resemblance to the story of David in the Bible. They proved that their qualification to this year’s African Cup of Nations at the expense of Cameroun was no fluke. Perhaps we should have all taken them seriously when they got to the quarter final stage losing by a single goal (from the penalty spot) to Ghana. This time, it was 2004 AFCON winners Tunisia they left in their wake in group B with an impressive 2-0 win, even more so because this was an away game for the islanders. I was really considering making Praia my new home. Until…
Seems somehow, big things “mistakenly” happen there.
So we woke up to the news on the 12th September that the Cape Verdians had been thrown out of the qualifying series for yes, frustratingly and annoyingly, fielding an ineligible player. This incompetence simply won’t go away. Once again, the system, sadly, has robbed the people a chance of a life time. Cape Verde’s place thus goes to Tunisia. Regardless, one theme runs through of all this – SHOCK!
Whiles Burkina Faso needed a 1-0 victory to edge Congo by a single point in Group E; Nigeria had little problems in dowsing the “flames” from Malawi in a 2-0 win. The spirited Malawi side came into the game in Calabar (in one of the many group decider ties of the round) looking to prevent the West African giants from making it a 5th appearance at the world’s biggest football showpiece. In the end it turned out to be an efficient display from the Super Eagles with goals from the returning Emenike and Chelsea loanee Victor Moses from the penalty spot.
Cote d’Ivoire’s last group C game was virtually academic as their qualification to the next stage was all but guaranteed. Didier Drogba’s 82nd minute penalty however salvaged a 1-1 draw against North African giants Morocco. Same could be said of Egypt who finished 8 points clear of second placed Guinea after a 4-2 thumping of the West African side in Group G.
Mali, built as Group I favorites failed to live up to the hype by surrendering top spot to World Cup 2010 debutants Algeria in Group H. Their last group game will only be a formality with the Algerians having sewn up the place in the last round.
In Group I Cameroon needed to avoid defeat against Libya to ensure qualification to the next round. A 1-0 win guaranteed they were 4 points clear of their nearest rivals, Libya. This welcome result was however overshadowed by the news of Samuel Eto’s retirement from National team duties. Someway somehow, it will feel like a defeat for most fans of the Indomitable Lions. The Teranga Lions of Senegal playing in far away Morocco as a result of a 2 year ban managed a 1-0 win over Uganda to secure top spot in Group J. Along with Cameroon; this signals a return to the top of African football for the two Lions.
As we wait for the draw on the 16th of September, you can be guaranteed that it is prayers, chants, and rituals in ensuring that it is a favourable draw. The seeded teams (according to FIFA’s ranking as at 12th September) are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, and Tunisia. Expect some cracking two legged ties.
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