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African World Cup Qualification Review

Cape Verde were the undoubted stars of the final round of games, as they picked up possibly the biggest win in their history, claiming a 2-0 win in Tunisia that takes them to within two games of the World Cup.

For Tunisia this was an incredibly harsh way to fall, given that in June they had apparently booked their place in the playoffs with a game to spare – yet it would later emerge that Equatorial Guinea had fielded an ineligible player, therefore allowing Cape Verde a second chance.

Having already qualified once it was always going to be tough for Tunisia to bring themselves back psychologically, nevertheless few saw them slipping as they needed just a draw at home. The Blue Sharks who stunned Africa earlier on in the year by reaching the last eight on their tournament debut, produced another memorable performance here as goals from Platini and Heldon saw the nation with a population of just 500,000 progress to the brink of Brazil.

A close second in the weekend’s achievement stakes were an Ethiopia side who having seemingly sealed a famous qualification in June, saw it ruled out due to fielding a suspended player. The Antelopes therefore needed to win in Central African Republic, with South Africa ready to pounce on any slip up. At half time things looked bleak as Ethiopia trailed and Bafana Bafana led comfortably, yet the group leaders showed an incredible resolve to come back and win the game 2-1. The goals came from Saladin Saed and Getaneh Kebede, the former’s fourth of the campaign whilst the latter was the suspended player who at one stage looked like costing them a shot at the World Cup.

Given that the Ethiopians were in the weakest pot of teams when the draw was made, their progress is quite sensational – particularly when you consider that they are also ranked outside of the top 100.

There was one other further magical story to report as Round Two was wrapped up – with Burkina Faso somehow coming back from claiming zero points from their opening two games to qualify. The Stallions themselves had made life tough, with the fielding of an illegal player presenting Congo with three points. The Congolese built on that fortune to reach halfway with maximum points, meaning they were just a win away from progressing.

Yet Congo twice failed to get over the line – with Burkina crucially picking up a 1-0 victory against them. In Saturday’s final fixture the African Cup of Nations runners-up did their bit as they squeezed out Gabon, whilst Niger just about did their share, holding Congo to a 2-2 draw.  That was enough to complete a dramatic turnaround for Burkina Faso, a side whom, given their form over the last nine months, will surely fancy claiming a first ever world cup spot.

The remaining four slots that were up for grabs went largely to script. Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal all clinched home wins over Zambia, Malawi and Uganda respectively – a draw would have been enough for all to progress. Cameroon took full advantage of being presented a fortuitous three points following Togo breaking the rules in June, a result that ensured they needed just a point at home to Libya to progress rather than the win they would have needed. In the end the Indomitable Lions did win the game, but you can’t help but wonder just how soul destroying it was for Libya to see their lead stripped away from them – further to that it might have been a very different contest had Cameroon had to push for the win.

We now enter the ‘do or die’ playoffs and there is real potential for some mouth-watering ties. The draw will be determined by the World Rankings, meaning that the strongest sides should in theory avoid each other – nevertheless there is plenty of scope for several of the big nations to meet

Currently the top five would be Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria and incredibly Cape Verde. That therefore means that some of the bigger names in that group could fall – with a resurgent Egypt and inform Burkina Faso the two unseeded sides to avoid. Undoubtedly the seeds will all be hopeful of facing Ethiopia, whilst the unseeded will be praying for a clash with Cape Verde. For both Ethiopia and Cape Verde they would love to face each other and it would make for a wonderful draw should that happen, even if it does not happen neither side should be taken lightly.

One thing is for certain nobody will be getting an easy passage to Brazil.