Articles related to CAF 2006 WC qualifiers:
Preview May 22, 2004
Update Aug 8, 2004
Update Mar 17, 2005
Update Apr 23, 2005
Update Jun 24, 2005
Update Sep 19, 2005
Wrap-up Oct 8, 2005
Update: CAF WCQ - Two rounds to go
by Peter Goldstein
A word to those who haven't been following the African qualifiers: start. With
only two rounds left, Africa is on the verge of producing the most remarkable qualifying results in the whole
history of the World Cup. Hyperbole? Maybe. But right now all five of the top-seeded teams are out of first place, and if the
current leaders go on to qualify, Africa will have four debutantes at this World Cup. Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Angola.
Want to know how amazing that is? OK. Here's a table going back to 1970,
the first year that CONCACAF, Africa, and Asia/Oceania all had guaranteed spots. (Israel 1970,
Australia 1974, and New Zealand 1982 are counted under Asia.) The numbers in the grid are the numbers of debutantes that
each confederation produced.
Africa Asia CONCACAF
1970 1 1 1
1974 1 1 1
1978 1 1 0
1982 2 2 1
1986 0 1 1
1990 0 1 1
1994 1 1 0
1998 1 1 1
2002 1 1 0
Note that only in 1982 did anyone have more than one debutante. Of course,
there are obvious reasons for some of these low numbers. From 1970-78, the
confederations had only one representative each, so one was their maximum.
From 1982-1990, they had only two representatives each, so two was the
maximum, achieved twice in 1982.
But never afterward. Note that point. This is true even though starting in 1994,
the berths of the lesser confederations began to expand. Africa had 3 teams in 1994, 5 in
1998 and 2002. Asia had 3 in 1998 and 4 in 2002. CONCACAF got 3 in 1998 and 2002. But although the number of
berths has significantly increased, none of the confederations has been able to break the 1-debutante barrier since 1982. And
as the years go on, it gets harder and harder, as fewer and fewer non-qualifiers remain.
Look at this year, and you'll see that in Asia and CONCACAF the pattern is continuing. Asia has
already qualified four teams, none of which are debutantes. At most Asia can have one debutante: Bahrain or Uzbekistan, if
they qualify for the playoff and beat the CONCACAF representative. (Kuwait, the other team still in the running, appeared in
the WC in 1982.) As for CONCACAF, two of their representatives will be USA and Mexico. The third is most likely to be
Costa Rica. So here the maximum debutante number is probably 1 as well.
Wondering about CONMEBOL and UEFA? In South America, after 1970, only Ecuador and
Venezuela remained. By 1994 Europe had used up most of its decent-sized nations (Finland and Albania the only
exceptions), but even with the subsequent addition of several new members, UEFA hasn't had more than 1 debutante in a
year. They might get two this year, with Ukraine and Slovakia--but that would be extraordinary, since the last time Europe
had more than 1 debutante was 1958.
So Africa's potential 4 is completely off the scale. What does it mean? Well, for years we've been waiting for the top
African teams to justify the confederation's increased presence at the World Cup. They've failed to do so. But meanwhile,
the second-tier nations have been improving. Senegal was the first to break through, in 2002. Now they're in danger of being
beaten out by other second-tier nations. Africa clearly has much more strength in depth than any of the other lesser
confederations. Try to imagine four debutantes from CONCACAF: Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Panama, St. Vincent &
the Grenadines? Or Asia: Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Oman, Thailand? It's just not thinkable.
Of course, there are still two rounds to go, and any or all of the would-be
candidates could still fail. But again, try to imagine all of the above
CONCACAF and Asian teams even getting close. It wouldn't happen. No
doubt about it: Africa is right now the most exciting confederation on the planet. So like I said: if you haven't
followed the African qualifiers, start. Here's a summary of the recent rounds, and a look ahead to the stretch run.
Pts Games Remaining
Togo 17 Liberia (H) Congo (A)
Zambia 16 Senegal (H) Liberia (A)
Senegal 15 Zambia (A) Mali (H)
The three teams were dead even on points going into June. The major pressure
was on Togo, who had to play Zambia (home) and Senegal (away) back to back. Against Zambia they came through in
style, winning 4:1--but if you ask the Zambians, they got a little help from the ref. In fact, Mohammed Guezzaz of Morocco
needed police protection after the match, not only from the fans, but the players as well. He had whistled penalties for Togo's
first and last goals, both of which were unjustified in Zambian eyes. But the Chipolopolo Boys couldn't really complain. They
equalized in the first half on a goal from their Russia-based star, Gift Kampamba, but Togo was up 3:1 by the time of the
second PK. Set-pieces made the difference: Shrerif Touré headed in a corner near the end of the first half, and Kader
Coubadja knocked in a free kick after the interval.
Meanwhile Senegal seemed to have the easier task, a road game at Congo. But the team was seriously depleted on
defense: Lamine Diatta and Habib Beye had been suspended for failing to show up at camp on time, and Omar Daf and Pape
Malick Diop were injured. As it turned out, the Lions didn't allow a goal--but they didn't score one either. In fact, Congo
outplayed them from start to finish, controlling midfield, keeping El Hadji Diouf and Henri Camara disconnected. Chances
were few on both sides, and in the end a 0:0 draw wasn't a bad result at all for Senegal. All they had to do was beat Togo at
home in two weeks, and they'd have the inside track. With the suspended players back on the squad, and a big crowd
behind them, the odds were certainly on their side.
You have to give Stephen Keshi credit, though. The Togo coach, needing a draw on the road
against the favorites, went with three attackers: Emmanuel Adebayor, Sherif Touré, and Olufade Adekanmi. And it was Togo
that drew first blood, on a sensational solo run and goal by Adekanmi in the 11th minute. But Guy Stephan had started three
attackers as well: Diouf, Camara, and Mamadou Niang, and soon the Lions had control of the game. Niang equalized only
three minutes later after a brilliant move and cross from Diouf, and when Camara scored off Niang's pass in the 30th minute,
Senegal was in full cry.
But they lacked the killer instinct. Towards the end of the first half, they
wasted three more chances; Diouf failed twice with the goal at his mercy. And
Togo didn't let them get away with it. In the second half they regained their equilibrium, and when in the 70th minute
Adebayor got the equalizer off a one-two with midfielder Junior Senaya, Senegal had no answer. The fans, so loud and
joyous before the game, stoned the team bus as it left the stadium. A few days later Senegal fired Youssoupha Ndiaye, the
minister of sports. Why the minister of sports and not the coach? Ndiaye had been a strong supporter of Stephan, the man
who kept him in the job after a disappointing Nations Cup. But why not fire Stephan too? Oh, wait--they did that two days
And Zambia? They kept up their end of the bargain with a dramatic 2:1 win home to Mali. Continuing a long-running soap
opera, Gift Kampamba walked out of camp, but they didn't need him. That's because they have the sensational Collins
Mbesuma, player of the year in the South African league. Pacy, clever, with a killer left foot, he's one of the great new stars
of the continent. Over 90 minutes Mali (remember, one of the early favorites in the group) played Zambia even, but a piece of
individual brilliance from Mbesuma got the winner in the 85th minute.
So let's look at the possibilities in this best of races. Togo is in fantastic shape, a point ahead
with the individual tiebreaker advantage on both Zambia and Senegal. (If it winds up a three-way tie, they could still lose out,
but let's not worry about that yet.) They should have no trouble home to Liberia in September; the Lone Star have given up at
this point. The final game at a resurgent Congo will be a lot tougher, but they may not need it. That's because Senegal and
Zambia have to play each other in round 9, and if Togo beat Liberia and the other two contenders draw, it's all over. Togo
will then have 20 points to 17 for Zambia, plus the tiebreaker advantage.
Zambia and Senegal are both still in the race, but their only chance is to win their last two games and hope Togo falters.
Zambia has the better chance, hosting Senegal and getting Liberia in the final match. Even if Senegal pulls the upset at Zambia
(and what an indictment of the Lions that they need a road win to keep their hopes alive!), Mali in the finale will not be easy.
Pts Games Remaining
Ghana 15 Uganda (H) Cape Verde (A)
South Africa 15 Burkina Faso (A) DR Congo (H)
DR Congo 12 Cape Verde (H) South Africa (A)
Although DR Congo is still theoretically alive, their round 8 loss at Burkina Faso
crippled their chances. It's really a two-team race now. And what a race. South Africa, two-time WC veterans, hosts in
2010, by definition the continent's flagship team. Ghana, the outrageously talented perennial underachievers. In round 8 in
Johannesburg the teams looked each other squarely in the eye--and amazingly, South Africa blinked.
Let's backtrack. In round 7 South Africa faced a very tricky tie at Cape Verde, the islanders who out of
nowhere had played their way into contention. Bafana responded remarkably well: despite injuries to Cyril Nzama, Bradley
Carnell, Quinton Fortune, Sibusizo Zuma, and Shaun Bartlett, and despite a legendarily poor pitch--not to mention that they
had no goalkeeper coach, since their regular man had been suspended for swearing at officials during a U-17 match--they
took over the game early. Delron Buckley was the star, sending in a perfect cross for Benni McCarthy's opener, and finishing
brilliantly for the second goal in only the 12th minute. Cape Verde pulled one back in the second half, and there were some
moments of nervousness, but there was no doubt South Africa had deserved the win.
Ghana had what seemed an easier task, home to Burkina Faso. But the Burkinabe, long dormant, are making a late run at
a Nations Cup spot, and Ghana was without Sulley Muntari, axed for disciplinary reasons, and Sammy Kuffour, absent in a
continuing row over his exclusion for the March game against DR Congo. The Stallions' counterattack had the Black Stars off
balance much of the game, and a first-half goal from Moumouni Dagano put the hosts under serious pressure. The chronic
problem--a shortage of effective strikers--looked like it might end Ghana's hopes there and then. But coach Ratomir
Djukovic pulled Asamoah Gyan for Joe Tex Frimpong (great name!) in the 54th minute, and 11 minutes later Frimpong won
the penalty which allowed Steven Appiah to equalize. Only eight minutes from time Vitesse Arnhem striker Matthew Amoah
got his very first goal of the qualifiers, capping the comeback, setting up the showdown round 8 game in Johannesburg.
Before the big match Bafana coach Stephen Baxter's problems continued to
multiply. Although Bartlett was back from injury, the others were still out. Worse, Benni McCarthy was
suspended, and starting keeper Hans Vonk went under to his recurring back injury. And once on the pitch South Africa
couldn't get it right. Bartlett missed a couple of chances in the first half; Buckley, the star against Cape Verde, was badly off
form; with the exception of playmaker Steven Pienaar, the team was flat. Ghana, needing a win, didn't threaten much, but the
longer they stayed even, the more confident they got.
In the 52nd minute came the turning point, when Ghana's John Pantsil cleared Lerato
Thabangu's shot off the line. The Black Stars then took over the action, and got the opener seven minutes later, when Appiah
beat the defense on the wing, and Amoah steered in the cross. Ghana's defense held firm the rest of the way, and Michael
Essien headed home Appiah's free kick for a late clincher.
With two rounds left, it's Ghana's spot to lose. They're even with South Africa on points, and with two wins
over Bafana have the tiebreaker in their pocket. But it's not over yet. Round 9, home to Uganda, looks easy, but the Cranes
are much improved under Mohammed Abbas, and have been a bit of a bogey side for Ghana recently. They were
instrumental in eliminating the Black Stars from the 2002 Nations Cup qualifiers. In the first leg, almost a year ago, Ghana
needed a late goal to scrape a draw at Kampala. The finale at Cape Verde could be tough as well if the islanders are still in
the running for a Nations Cup spot.
South Africa's road may be even more challenging. Burkina Faso is making their charge for the third spot, and at
home could very easily get a draw or even a win. The finish is home to DR Congo, a good team that will be fighting for a
Nations Cup spot, and just possibly a berth in Germany.
So again, it's Ghana in pole position. But don't expect the fans to be optimistic. Here's a list for you: Nigeria, Zaire,
Guinea, Libya, Liberia, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria. Those are the teams that have either eliminated the Black Stars
head-to-head or finished first in Ghana's qualifying group. Eight tries, eight blanks, seven different teams. Just wait until the
morning of October 8, and check the newspapers. Or just stick your ear out the window in the direction of Accra. If they've
qualified, you'll know.
Pts Games Remaining
Ivory Coast 19 Cameroon (H) Sudan (A)
Cameroon 17 Ivory Coast (A) Egypt (H)
For several months this looked like an Ivory Coast runaway. But check the standings: the Indomitable
Lions are finally within range, with the decider coming up in September. They closed the gap in round 7, when Ivory Coast
got only a 0:0 draw at Libya, while Cameroon delivered a smashing 4:1 victory at Benin. So with the Indomitable Lions in fine
form, they're nervous in Abidjan, right?
Not necessarily. The draw at Libya was a disappointment, but Libya has a solid side this year, and at home
they've been very hard to beat. (Cameroon wound up 0:0 there as well, and Egypt lost 1:2.) For most of the game Libya
played defense, and the Elephants just couldn't break through. The chances finally came at the end, but neither Didier Drogba
nor Aruna Dindane could convert.
And when they got back home to play Egypt in round 8, the strikers were ready again. Drogba scored
two beauties--the first on a brilliant volley off a pass from Dindane, the second on a 25-yard smash. Although the team as a
whole didn't dominate, they kept Egypt off the board with solid defense and goalkeeping, and against a quality side were
worth their win.
On the other side, Cameroon's rout at Benin looks impressive--until you realize that the Squirrels were fielding a
youth team. Ten of the eleven starters came from the U-20's, preparing for the upcoming FIFA World Championships in
Holland. Under the circumstances, 4:1 was about right. And in round 8, home to Libya, the Lions were no more than decent
in a 1:0 win. As against Ivory Coast, Libya packed the defense, and chances were very hard to come by. The goal was pretty
nice, though: a one-two between Samuel Eto'O and Geremi Njitap, with and a cross by the latter for a header by Achille
The game on September 3 will decide the group. Ivory Coast should handle Sudan in the final
match, so Cameroon needs a win on the road. In the past you'd have put your money on the Lions, and certainly we can't
count them out here. And if you're a Cameroon supporter, there are plenty of arguments in your favor. In round 3, needing a
win to slow the Elephants down, they beat Ivory Coast 2:0 at home. They have all the big-game experience. A good sign is
the return to form of Geremi, who had been wobbly for several months. Webo and Rudolph Douala have added new punch
to an inconsistent attack. No one is out through suspension.
But Ivory Coast remains the same fine squad that has looked so powerful throughout the tournament. They'll be at full
strength as well, and they'll have the home advantage. They'll need only a draw. Players like Drogba, Kolo Toure,
Bonaventure Kalou, Didier Zokora, Arthur Boka, and Marc-Andre Zora can draw on their experience in top leagues in
Europe. Henri Michel at the helm is as wily as they come. And the win over Egypt will give them momentum and self-belief.
One way or another, this will be a landmark game. Of the 4 would-be
debutantes, Ivory Coast has from the start been the clearest contender. Of the 4 favorites in danger, Cameroon is the
one with the greatest pedigree. Old or new? Status quo or changing of the guard? Go online and locate a matchtracker (the
BBC website is a good bet), and we'll find out together.
Pts Games Remaining
Angola 15 Gabon (H) Rwanda (A)
Nigeria 15 Algeria (A) Zimbabwe (H)
Zimbabwe 12 Rwanda (H) Nigeria (A)
Like DR Congo in Group Two, Zimbabwe is mathematically but not practically alive. But let's give them a
salute for their win over Gabon and fighting draw at Algeria; they're now in excellent shape for a Nations Cup spot.
That leaves Angola ahead of Nigeria, the biggest stunner of them all. Ghana and Ivory Coast have always had plenty
of talent, and it's no shock that they at last find themselves within range. Togo has come out of nowhere, true, but Senegal
was always the most vulnerable of the top seeds. But here we have Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, second only
to Cameroon in pedigree, with a roster dotted with household names-- and somehow they're behind a nation that not only
has never qualified for the World Cup, but has never advanced out of the group stage at the Nations Cup. What could
possibly have happened?
Nigeria being Nigeria, mostly. Nigerian football is chaotic like the universe is large. There's simply no way to describe
it--you have to experience it for yourself. Check the many online Nigerian newspapers and you'll see scandal after
controversy after absurdity after is-this-a-joke childishness. Just a small taste: before the round 7 game at Rwanda, the FA
released the official list of players called into camp. On the list were Benedict Akwuegbu, Blessing Kaku, and Karibe
Ojigwe--except coach Christian Chukwu claimed they shouldn't have been there. He said the FA had included them against
his will. Chukwu: "I don't know who included them in the list." Fanny Amun, the secretary-general of the FA: "Chukwu is a
liar. He is telling lies." The players were dropped.
But that sort of thing happens all the time in Nigeria; more damaging is the endemic lack of
seriousness in preparations. At various times during the qualifiers it was unclear where training camps would be held, how
many players would be available and why, what travel arrangements would be used, etc. etc. Lots of players took a casual
attitude toward participating. For the Rwanda match, Jay-Jay Okocha didn't show up at camp, claiming he got lost on the
way. The camp was in London. That's London, England. You can stop and ask directions.
At the top of the list is the coaching situation. I don't know Christian Chukwu
personally; he's probably a very nice man, kind to children and animals. But
all along there's been a sense he's not quite at top level. But that's the FA's
fault: after failing to get Bobby Robson (and that's another story), they
decided to go local and do the job on the cheap. After all, they're Nigeria, dominant
and commanding; in a weakish group they probably figured even some guy off the street would be enough.
And going into June they seemed to have few worries. Angola had lost at Zimbabwe, and
Nigeria was two points clear with the head-to-head rematch at home. But at Rwanda, without Okocha and Yakubu
Aiyegbeni, who didn't show up, and John Utaka, who was injured, Nigeria could only draw--and were lucky to do so.
Rwanda had most of the play, and missed several chances before star striker Jimmy Gatete put them on top early in the
second half. Obafemi Martins saved the day with a 78th minute equalizer.
In the meantime the Palancas Negras kept pushing ahead, beating Algeria 2:1
at home, getting back even on points. Their coach is Luis Oliveira Gonçalves,
perhaps not a famous name, but a man with a distinguished record. In 2001 he
was the coach of the Angolan U-20's, who upset Ghana to win the African title. He then took
the side to the FIFA championship in Argentina, where they topped their group, falling only to the Netherlands in the
elimination rounds. When the senior team got off to a horrendous start in this year's WCQ, losing the opener at Chad, he was
the logical choice.
And so on June 17 he brought the team to Nigeria for the showdown. Having won the first leg at
home last year, Angola needed only a draw. But surely that would be too much. Nigeria was still Nigeria, and had a 20-game
WINNING (that's winning, not unbeaten) streak in home World Cup qualifiers. You had to go all the way back to 1981 to
find the last time they hadn't won at home. Okocha and Aiyegbeni were back, too, and Jay-Jay immediately put the Super
Eagles on top with a 5th minute free kick.
But it wasn't enough. Perhaps assuming they had the game won, Nigeria went lifeless.
Gonçalves had told his men to mark the strikers wide, putting all the pressure on Okocha to run the attack. Okocha, no
longer young, and maybe not in the best of shape, tired early. Angola gradually reached a comfort level, and when the second
half started they were dominant. Figueiredo's 60th minute free kick evened the scores, and the team settled back to defend.
A stunned Nigeria didn't start exerting serious pressure until about ten minutes left, and their only real chance to equalize came
in injury time. But Kevin Amuneke missed, and that was that.
Angola is even on points and has the tiebreaker, but they're by no means home and dry. In round 9 they host Gabon, a
solid mid-table team fighting for a Nations Cup spot. Round 10 is at Rwanda, and you know what they did to Nigeria. The
Super Eagles have a tough schedule, too: Algeria has been a disappointment, but they're due for a coaching change and at
home will be no pushover. If Zimbabwe hasn't clinched their Nations Cup spot, they'll be a handful in the finale.
My pick? I'm not brave enough--but the latest dispatches from Nigeria aren't
encouraging. Chukwu has been suspended (not fired, because then they'd have to give him severance pay), and assistant
Austin Eguavoen has taken over. The FA is said to be seeking a European coach. What they really need, though, is someone
who can read. A couple of days ago, Ibrahim Galadima, the FA Chairman, publicly stated that Nigeria was actually ahead of
Angola in the group, because of goal difference. He claimed he had a "circular" from FIFA saying goal difference would be
determinant. "Circular" is right--but in Nigerian football that usually means a firing squad.
Pts Games Remaining
Morocco 16 Botswana (H) Tunisia (A)
Tunisia 14 Kenya (H) Kenya (A) Morocco (H)
This is the only group without an upset in the offing. Tunisia may be top seed, but Morocco
has always been in their class, and the two favorites will decide this one in October. In all of Africa, these are the two oldest
enemies. They first met in World Cup qualifying all the way back in 1962, and followed it up in 1970 and 1978. They were
so evenly matched that Morocco had to win on lots in the first two meetings, and Tunisia on penalty kicks in the third. They
were also in the same preliminary group in 1990, where Tunisia prevailed, and in 1994, where it was Morocco's turn. Most
recently they met in the Final of the 2004 Nations Cup, where Tunisia, playing at home, emerged on top. To use an American
sports cliché, these two teams don't like each other.
Up until June it appeared as if Morocco was in control. Although Tunisia had managed a draw at Morocco
back in September, they had previously lost at Guinea, and had the tougher schedule for the run-in. But in two weeks
everything changed: Tunisia picked up six difficult points, with a 3:1 win at Botswana and a 2:0 win home to Guinea. And
although Morocco breezed by Malawi at home, they dropped two crucial points in a poor 0:0 draw at Kenya. Now we're in
balance: Tunisia is down two points with a game in hand, and the decider at home. Morocco figures to handle Botswana at
home in round 9, which would give them 19 points. If Tunisia can get six points from the back-to-back Kenya games, they'll
have 20, and will need only a draw at home in the finale. But if they only get four points, or three, or two, they'll need a win.
The momentum favors Tunisia. They turned some heads with their play at the Confederations Cup; although
they lost to Argentina and Germany, they certainly didn't look outclassed. Morocco is the only team in the tournament that
hasn't lost a game, but they've had tremendous difficulties scoring goals against quality sides. Coach Badou Ezaki has come in
for severe criticism for his conservative approach; for example, in the 0:0 draw at Kenya he played with only one point man,
Youssef Hadji, putting striker Jaouad Zairi in a withdrawn role. The attack never got going, and they were lucky not to lose
when a probable PK in Kenya's favor wasn't called. Against Botswana they should have enough firepower, but will they be
able to outscore Tunisia if necessary? Tunisia has much more punch: with one game less, they've scored six goals more.
On the other hand, unless Tunisia gets six points against Kenya, a 0:0 draw will be enough for Morocco. And
Kenya won't go down easy--they have a genuine star in young striker Dennis Oliech, and are very much in the running for a
Nations Cup spot. Plus, it's tough to beat teams back-to-back, especially when the second game is on the road. No
guarantees here; we won't know until after round 9 what the parameters will be.
But at least this group makes sense. When we first previewed the African
qualifiers more than a year ago, I gave better than even odds there would be
no debutantes. With all the groups in play, this has been a wonderful African
qualifying season, the best ever--but did they have to prove me wrong so
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