WEST African football powerhouses the Ivory Coast and Nigeria are sitting pretty and have certainly started packing for Brazil following their weekend victories in the Africa Zone final qualifying first legs for the 2014 World Cup finals.
– Innocent Kurwa
Only unthinkable shock reverses will deny them a place at the 20th edition of the world’s largest and most popular sporting event.
But the highlight of the weekend was that Ethiopia proved to be more than just a land of long-distance runners!
Nigeria came back from a goal down to overcome hosts Ethiopia 2-1 in Addis Ababa while the Ivory Coast were 3-1 comfortable winners over fellow West Africans Senegal at home in Abidjan.
Both Nigeria and the Ivory Coast should easily ride the last hurdle when they play in the second and final legs. On November 16, the Super Eagles will host Ethiopia, the only team from outside of West and North Africa in the last 10 vying for the five slots allotted to Africa at the World Cup, in Calabar, Nigeria.
On the same date the Elephants will travel to Dakar for the return leg against Senegal.
The other two first legs played at the weekend saw Burkina Faso, along with Ethiopia vying for their first appearance at the World Cup finals, edging North African powerhouse Algeria 3-2 while Tunisia and Cameroon played out the only goalless match of the weekend ties, but what an absorbing match it was.
Cameroon must, however, be very grateful to second-choice goalkeeper Charles Itandje who justified his selection ahead of the Indomitable Lions’ first-choice goalminder Idriss Carlos Kameni.
By the way, how many of us remember that Itandje once played for Liverpool? He is now turning out for Konyaspor in Turkey.
The last of the first legs is set to be played tonight when Ghana, seeking a fifth appearance at the World Cup finals, host Egypt, themselves wanting to reach the finals for the third time, at Ghana’s Kumasi’s Baba Yara Stadium and that a must-not-miss match, as it should produce another absorbing game.
The Barclays English Premier League (BPL) was quite a show in the Africa Zone qualifiers at the weekend with former BPL stars Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Gervinho all scoring for the Ivory Coast while current Newcastle United striker Papiss Cissé got the consolation for Senegal.
The other BPL current and former stars included Samuel Eto’o, who captains Cameroon, Cheick Tioté of Newcastle United, Chelsea teammates John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses – the latter currently on loan at Everton – former Arsenal midfielder Alex Song, now with Barcelona, just to mention a few.
It was, just to digress a bit, also very pleasing to see former Cameroon great Rigobet Song, a relation of Alex Song, in the technical team of the West Africans seeking a seventh appearance at the World Cup finals, the best by an African team.
Ethiopia were by far the most entertaining side in the weekend matches as they passed the ball around “Barcelona-style”, in a manner that, for most of the first half, baffled the hugely experienced Nigerians.
The hosts were denied a legitimate goal midway through the opening half and their penalty shout in the 30th minute surely was justifiable and deserved to be awarded.
The East African country, more well known for long-distance runners like Haile Gebrselassie and of course ousted leader Mengistu Haile Mariam, capped their performance taking a deserved lead in the 57th minute when Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama was fooled by what was seemingly a cross, but Emmanuel Emenike came to the rescue with a double — his second coming from a last minute penalty-kick to deny the Ethiopians a historic draw.
And to think that the whole Ethiopian team, save for three or four, play their football in the domestic league and that those playing outside are in South Africa, says a lot about their national team.
They will certainly be a handful at the African Nations Championship (Chan) finals in South Africa in three months’ time — they are in Group C together with Ghana, Libya and Congo (Brazzaville).
For the uninitiated, Chan teams are composed of players only in the country’s domestic league.
- While the Africa Zone final qualifying matches took the attention of most football fanatics, the Mbada Holdings Diamonds Cup provided its own thrills with the highlight of the weekend being the dumping out of holders Dynamos when the “seven-million supporters’ team” lost 0-1 to minnows How Mine in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
There was a cartoon in one Sunday paper depicting a Dynamos player boasting to a How Mine player “I want to teach you football” at kick-off!
The master was this time taught a lesson by the pupil!
Joining How Mine in the semi-finals are Bulawayo giants Highlanders — who surely would love to avoid How Mine in the draw for the penultimate round — Harare City and Caps United, the Green Machine who must be on cloud nine winning at the end of a tumultuous week during which coach Taurai Mangwiro quit in a huff, but returned to the fold within 48 hours.
Hopefully the semi-finals draw keeps apart the Bulawayo-based sides so that we can have a mouthwatering city-to-city final, so to speak!
And a final of the minnows — How Mine and Harare City — would bring a welcome fresh breath of air, one a lot of people would not want to miss, especially if paying only a dollar to watch it live at the stadium and, for those not able to travel to the final, watching it live on television.