Africa World Cup Qualifying: final matches start Saturday
By the end of the day on Tuesday, we’ll know which five African sides are headed to Brazil. The first legs were played out an entire month ago, and the teams have had plenty of time to mull over whether they’d be getting a chance at World Cup glory (except, perhaps, for Ghana, who’ve likely already booked a group holiday tour). Now, finally, the next few days will end in heartbreak for some, and delirious joy for others.
So let’s delve on in. We’ll find out who’s still got a chance, who’s almost certainly staying at home, and what matches are most likely to take the tension right down to the wire.
Nigeria vs. Ethiopia (Saturday at 10 a.m. ET)
First leg: Ethiopia 1-2 Nigeria
The first deciding match looks, on paper, like it might be one of the best. But then you consider the fact that, really, all Nigeria need to do at home is to make sure Ethiopia don’t score two goals. In October, the match was scoreless at the half, with the Super Eagles solid and able to contain the hosts. A slight slip from Vincent Enyeama saw Ethiopia take the lead, but Emmanuel Emenike sent in a sharp goal ten minutes later, and converted a penalty in the 90th minute for Nigeria to take away the lead. As long as Steven Keshi instructs his side to stay focused, it should be simple enough for Nigeria to make it to Brazil. But if you’re a real fan of underdogs, cheer on the Walias, the only side left that entered in the first round of qualifying, and who’ve never made it to a World Cup.
Senegal vs. Ivory Coast (Saturday at 2 p.m. ET)
First leg: Ivory Coast 3-1 Senegal
Senegal’s first, and only, trip to the World Cup came back in 2002, and it looks unlikely that they’ll make their second appearance in 2014. Ivory Coast took an early lead in the first leg, thanks to a penalty from Didier Drogba and an own goal from Ludovic Sané that had the Elephants up 2-0 before 15 minutes had passed. The Elephants are probably already convinced that they’re on their way to a third straight World Cup appearance, but the fact that they let slip a last minute goal from Papiss Cissé should give them pause. Senegal weren’t about to give up on their Brazilian dreams, and with Alain Giresse stating that his side are set to go for it in Casablanca, Ivory Coast would do well to not let their guard slip.
Cameroon vs. Tunisia (Sunday at 9 a.m. ET)
First leg: Tunisia 0-0 Cameroon
Cameroon made it to South Africa last time around, but lost all three of their group stage matches. Tunisia missed out in 2010 and hasn’t won a World Cup match since 1978. Still, one of these sides is going to make it to Brazil, so let’s hope they find their scoring boots this time around. But both sides are likely to approach this one cautiously. Tunisia know the hosts have the advantage and will do everything in their power to make sure Cameroon don’t score, likely not even attempting to press forward until near the end of the match. Still, we can hope that, say, Samuel Eto’o finds the goal early on, pushing the visitors into an attack.
Egypt vs. Ghana (Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET)
First leg: Ghana 6-1 Egypt
One has to wonder if the Black Stars are already chilling on the beach in Rio. In the first leg, Asamoah Gyan had Ghana ahead before five minutes were up. Wael Gomaa helped out with an own goal, and Majeed Waris added another before the break. Egypt’s only goal came from a penalty taken by Mohamed Aboutrika in the first half. Gyan added another in the second, with André Ayew and Sulley Muntari also getting on the scoresheet. While it would be nice for Egypt to give Bob Bradley an appropriate sending off in Cairo, it’s almost unthinkable that they’ll get the 5-0 scoreline required to take the Pharaohs to their first World Cup in nearly 25 years.
Algeria vs. Burkina Faso (Tuesday at 1:15 p.m. ET)
First leg: Burkina Faso 3-2 Algeria
Saving the best for last, eh, Africa? Last time around, Algeria staged a comeback, with Sofiane Feghouli and Carl Medjani scoring in the second half to bring the scoreline level. But, with five minutes left to play in Ouagadougou, the visitors were a bit anxious, and wound up giving away a penalty. Aristide Bancé converted to give Burkina Faso the advantage. The Stallions are the current Cinderella story of Africa, having made it to the final of the 2013 Cup of Nations, and are now competing for the chance to get to their first-ever World Cup. Judging from October’s match, however, Algeria aren’t about to simply hand Burkina Faso their fairy tale ending.