By Paul Bassey
Football will not seize to amaze me. Some call it the beautiful game. Others believe it is a “wicked game” like death, football has a mind of its own, it is no respecter of persons, class or pedigree.
Ask the Tunisians.
Saturday evening, I sat at the impressive and imposing Rades Stadium in the outskirt of Tunis wondering what could have been. After their match against Equatorial Guinea, Tunisia were already Group B qualifiers with a match to spare. Then came the faux pas by Equatorial Guinea and Cape Verde who in three matches were pointless were gifted three points and subsequent victories against Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone took them just two points close to Tunisia.
Not to worry, the final match was to be held in Tunis and with two superior points, all the Tunisians needed was to draw and that will be it. But a draw was far from their minds. Tunisia, four time World Cup qualifiers who beat Cape Verde 2-1 at away was very sure the Cape Verdians will be taken for dinner.
No sooner had the match started that reality dawned. Like lighting, counter attacks, goal….not once, but twice…..Two merited goals in the first half and the damage had been done. Try as much as they did in the second half…..there was no coming back…..Cape Verde has eliminated giants Tunisia. An upset by all standards.
A similar story was told in Durban where South Africa rallied to trounce Botswana 4-1, but it was a little too late. The Ethiopians rallied back from a goal down to beat hapless and homeless Central African Republic 2-1 in Congo to top the group and oust their more illustrious opponents.
At the time of writing this report, all the qualifiers but one had been known. (The match pitching Cameroun against Libya in Yaounde was yet to be played. But all those, including yours truly, tipping the Indomitable Lions should not FORGET THE Cape Verde story…)
What this means is that pending the latest FIFA-Coca-Cola ranking that will be released on Thursday, all those to be in the first hat for the September 16 draw in Cairo have stood out. Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria and Cape Verde…yes Cape Verde. At the last ranking, Cape Verde Nations Cup quarter finalists were lying sixth behind Nigeria, but now with the elimination of Mali, losers to Algeria in Group H, Cape Verde has sneaked into the top five.
Though the rankings sometimes defy mere mortals comprehension, let us assume this is the scenario, leaving the other hat for Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Senegal and Cameroun (Why am I underrating Lybya?)
Look at the above paragraph again and you will agree that qualifying for this world cup will be quite a challenge as we stand to draw either Cameroun(!) Egypt or Senegal. Even Ethiopia will not be easy. Ask Coach Keshi. You can also ask Keshi whether he will prefer to face Burkina Faso again.
Talking about preference, I have had readers who are convinced that we can handle Egypt easily. That the North Africans have seized to be a threat to the Super Eagles, while they dread Senegal and Cameroun. What about those who dismiss Cameroun as a spent force? To this Romanus Ibe has a view “……….Cameroun any day is a danger to Nigeria. They have our number. They have a way of rising to the occasion whenever the foe is Nigeria and history can attest to this. I prefer we avoid them, let them take their wahala go”
One advantage that the seeded teams will have is the luxury of playing their return leg at home. But does it matter? How much can you do after losing say 3-0 at away?
The fairy tale of Cape Verde and Ethiopia is brought to the fore by the sixteen qualifiers for African Nations Championship (CHAN) scheduled for South Africa early January next year. The host on paper would have preferred names different from those listed. They are lucky to have Nigeria….for the first time ….thanks to a Keshi policy of identifying with domestic based players.
Others are host South Africa, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Congo Braza, Congo DR, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Mozambique….dont ask me about former host and Africa football power house Cote D’Ivoire. What about defending champions Tunisia? Egypt, Algeria, Cameroun, Zambia and Senegal among others?
African football is taking a turn, perhaps for the better, one in which traditional names are losing power and fast too, that is why I am happy that we are not playing Cape Verde….why I may not celebrate a fixture against Ethiopia….yes qualification for the World Cup is not moi moi. Wanting to be among the best, you must beat the best…..so, bring them on….WHOEVER…
See you next week