THREE of the five national football teams that will represent Africa at the World Cup finals in Brazil next year were decided at the weekend with reigning continental champions Nigeria being the first to qualify and were joined by the Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
The last two representatives for Africa will be decided tonight with Egypt home to Ghana and Algeria hosting Burkina Faso.
The weekend also featured four European first legs of the qualifying play-offs and two inter-continental qualifiers — Mexico against New Zealand and Uruguay away to Jordan. All these play-offs will be concluded tonight and by tomorrow morning it will be clear which 31 countries would join hosts Brazil at the 2014 World Cup finals.
Nigeria, who edged Ethiopia 2-0 in the second leg in Calabar on Saturday, were the first African nation to reach Brazil, winning their play-off 4-1 on aggregate after a 2-1 victory in the first leg in Addis Ababa last month.
This is the first time since 2002 that the reigning African champions are at the World Cup finals — but this does not in any way shorten the long odds on Nigeria landing their first senior World Cup title.
On the whole it has been a very successful year for the West Africans what with their Under-17 juniors landing the World Cup title in the United Arab Emirates last week to add to the Super Eagles’ continental title in South Africa in January!
Their home-based players have also qualified for the Chan finals in South Africa next January — the Chan tournament features only players playing in a country’s domestic league.
Ghana, hold a big 6-1 advantage going into the second leg of the World Cup final qualifier against Egypt and are likely to win unless their hosts can manage a comeback of the level of an earthquake.
They are also in the Chan finals.
The West Africans, or more generally sub-Saharan Africa, has dominated the World Cup places for Africa with the Ivory Coast beating Senegal in one of only two qualifiers that featured sub-Saharan countries, the other was between Nigeria and Ethiopia.
All the other three ties in the final play-offs featured a sub-Saharan country against a North African Arab-speaking country — Burkina Faso against Algeria, Ghana-Egypt and Cameroon-Tunisia.
Algeria would most likely be the only Arab-speaking African country at the World Cup finals in Brazil, but they might also not make it if Burkina Faso can successfully defend their slender 3-2 first leg lead from Ouagadougou.
As mentioned before, Egypt need to surmount a hurdle the size of their tourist and historical attractions, the pyramid, to pip Ghana to a berth in Brazil.
Beyond Africa, France need a big Houdini act to come back from a two-goal deficit against Ukraine while the ties between Portugal and Sweden and Iceland and Croatia are both finely balanced.
Portugal hold a slender 1-0 lead going into the return leg tonight while Croatia and Iceland played out a goalless draw in Reykjavik. If Iceland can manage a shock win in Zagreb tonight, which is very unlikely, they will be the smallest ever nation to qualify for the World Cup finals.
The island nation has a population of 325 000, less than even that of Chitungwiza or of a lot of our provinces! Of course Iceland has a far higher standard of living, with a per capita gross domestic product of $42 000. The last European berth will be decided between Greece and Romania with the former leading 3-1 from their home first leg.
Mexico and Uruguay are both certainly on their way to Brazil next year with the Central Americans holding a 5-1 lead over New Zealand from the first leg while Uruguay hold a 5-0 lead over Jordan.
Of course some of us would rather Uruguay were not at the 2014 finals or we pray they do not meet an African nation – remember the Luis Suarez evil hand that broke African hopes in the last World Cup finals in South Africa when the Liverpool striker stopped with his hands a certain goal from Ghana?
Yes, he was shown the red card, but Ghana missed the resultant spot kick and Suarez became a national hero back in his homeland.
By the way Zimbabwe are also going to the Chan finals. Our national team did not have a friendly match to prepare for the Chan finals.
Of course the weekend was nonetheless engrossing on the local scene with a three-way fight for the Premier Soccer League title which now goes into the final matchday.
Bulawayo giant went into the weekend on a high after a 1-0 victory against Triangle in midweek catapulted them to the summit of the race, but they came down to mother earth following a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Harare City who have replaced them at the top.
The third title hopefuls, defending champions Dynamos were held 2-2 by Chicken Inn in Bulawayo. We all have to wait for the final weekend of the season to see who of Highlanders, Harare City and Dynamos lands the title.
Tendulkar’s farewell speech was very moving and on more than one occasion the Indian batsman was almost in tears. He thanked his late father, his mother, brothers and sister as well as his wife Anjali calling her “my best partnership” — a pun with cricket jargon – as well as his son and daughter and his in-laws “for allowing me to marry Anjali”.
Tendulkar’s praise and valuing of his wife Anjali is of course in dire contrast to that of an Ugandan supporter of Manchester United who used his wife and his Toyota car as a wager in a bet with an Arsenal supporter when the two English giants clashed a fortnight ago.
This is downright lack of love and respect of a spouse who was saved blushes by Manchester United beating Arsenal 1-0. Imagine if Manchester United had lost and the wife being told she was now another man’s simply because of football!
Yes, it is the crazy world of football – in the 1970s it happened right here in Bulawayo when a supporter of Matabeleland Highlanders agreed a bet with a supporter of Mashonaland United!
Just to keep the history of some people intact I will not say what the wagers were and who was involved.