By Paul Bassey
Last Saturday, football faithful all over the world were joined by their African colleagues to celebrate the feast of football as the 2014 FIFA World Cup Preliminary competition kicked off.
If the feast is for spectators and fans, the teams are at war, feeling the heat as football once more lays claim to surprises galore.
I am writing this piece, Sunday morning from Bangui in Central African Republic where FIFA had sent me as Match Commissioner in the clash between Central African Republic and Botswana.
On paper, we all gave it to Botswana, surprise Gabon- Equatorial Guinea Africa Nations Cup finalist who had jetted out to Turkey to perfect their strategy and flew into Bangui beaming with confidence. On the other side, tiny Central African Republic, yet to win a world cup match.
By the time referee Bernard Camille from Seychelles blew the final whistle, pandemonium was nearly let loose as the over 20,000 packed stadium broke into ecstacy. A convincing 2-0 victory, both goals coming from the booths of 26 year old Foxi Kethevoama who plies his trade in Kazakhstan!
As I am writing this I wish I could include Nigeria’s result in the write up, being one of the results that the world is looking out for, as the sleeping giants of African football struggle use this competition to rise to their feet.
Fellow giant Cameroun left the stadium in Yaoude 1-0 victors against Congo DR convinced that there is still a lot of work to be done to get back on top
French coach Denis Lavagne had to suffer a goalless first half before the slim victory that left the adorable fans of the erstwhile Indomitable Lions cheerless.
What about Tunisia, four time Africa world cup finalist who forty five minutes into the game in Tunis, were one goal down against Equatorial Guinea? The Nations Cup co host were set to prove their showing in January was not a fluke, yet the Tunisians had to rally back in the second half to score three goals to save their blushes.
Let us move over to Dakar, Senegal where the star studded Teranga Lions were hosting Liberia. Those who expected a massacre going by current football rankings were shocked when Liberia shot ahead in the second minute through Francis Doe and Senegal struggled.
By the 59th minute the match was still 1-1 until the Lions finally gave their fans something to cheer about, scoring two goals in quick succession.
Egypt, another sleeping giant shed no sweat last Friday as Mozambique were turned back 2-0 in Cairo. The Pharaohs wished they had converted all the chances that came their way.
Where were the African champions Zambia? They had arrived Sudan in all majesty only to be slaughtered twice on the hot slabs of Khartoum by the host, in what many consider as one of the upsets of last Saturday’s matches.
Gabon –Equatorial Guinea Nations Cup finalist Cote D’ivoire on the other hand made sure of their hosting position when they hammered Tanzania 2-0. Salomon Kalou opened scores and it took the king himself, the most popular player on planet earth today, Didier Drogba to make matters certain with the second goal in the 85th minute.
If we consider Algeria’s 4-0 drubbing of Rwanda as an easy match, how do we describe the 7-0 whitewash Ghana handed to Lesotho? By half time the Ghanaians were already 3-0 up in Kumasi and the technical bench contemplated throwing in all the reserves to give as many players as possible quality playing time as victory was already guaranteed, yet they were wise enough to realize that in the league format, the more goals you score the greater your chances of qualification ( ……Ask Manchester United)
Nigeria must have been happy that not only were goals not scored in Nairobi but that there were no victors in the match Kenya –Malawi. What this translates to is that as Nigeria beats Namibia on Sunday, to top the table, there will be no good second.
If we do not consider the 1-1 draw between Gambia and Morocco in Banjoul as an African football surprise, I wonder what will be. It is always expected that Morocco could beat Gambia any day, anywhere, yet on Saturday the Moroccans had to struggle from one goal down in the first half to level up before full time. General Dominic Oneya who was there as Match Commissioner can tell the story better.
Similar experience in Freetown where despite a 2-0 lead in the first half, Cape Verde rallied back in the second to reduce the tally by one.
As you are reading this, half of the teams who were away are on their way back home while those who were at home are making arrangement to travel out for the second matches this week end, (…Including our very own Linus Mba who goes to Congo DR and Austin Akosa expected in Lesotho ) a week end that will be key in defining and shaping the group tables that will not see any action till late March next year.
See you next week.