Only two of the six 2010 World Cup qualifiers from Africa will be in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next January for the Cup of Nations with Nigeria blaming a faith healer and South Africa the head-to-head rule for missing out.
Ghana, eliminated by Uruguay after a quarter-final shoot-out, and neighbours Cote d’ Ivoire made it while Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria and the first African World Cup hosts South Africa fell by the wayside.
The Black Stars of Ghana were impressive 2-0 away winners over Sudan in a near 40-degree celsius Omdurman furnace as the 14-month qualifying competition drew to a close at the weekend and 14 teams survived to join the co-hosts.
Cote d’ Ivoire finished with the only perfect record by snatching a stoppage-time 2-1 victory over Burundi thanks to a goal from Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, whose older brother Kolo had opened the scoring in Abidjan.
Healer unnerved Nigeria
West Bromwich Albion midfielder Osaze Odemwingie said the predictions of a leading faith healer had unnerved Nigeria ahead of a dramatic 2-2 draw with Guinea, who levelled at the death to top the table and rob Nigeria of a slot as one of the best runners-up.
Pastor TB Joshua foresaw last weekend during a church service that the Super Eagles would not make the Cup of Nations for the first time since 1998, when they were suspended for failing to defend the title two years earlier because of political differences with South Africa.
“The prediction of Prophet TB Joshua really affected us,” admitted Odemwingie, who has lost his goal touch in the English Premier League and struggled against Guinea until being booed off the field when substituted.
Confusion reigned after South Africa were held 0-0 at home by Sierra Leone — a modest team they have neither beaten nor scored against in four meetings — with players mistakenly celebrating qualification from a group lowest ranked Niger won.
“Did we qualify? What do you think? If we have qualified I am very happy. I don’t know,” coach Pitso Mosimane told the South African Broadcasting Corporation, who heightened the confusion by telling South Africans that Bafana Bafana had won the group.
Less of a shock
South African officials reacted to the shock by lodging an appeal with the organisers, but the action was dismissed yesterday as a “stunt” by the Johannesburg Star and seems certain to fail as the head-to-head rule has been successfully applied in African competitions for many years.
A blogger summed up the feelings of many disillusioned South African football supporters when he tweeted: “If we cannot defeat Sierra Leone at home we do not deserve to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations.”
The failures of Algeria and Cameroon came as less of a shock as they struggled from the outset in the 11-group competition with the North Africans dropping five points in their opening two games and ending third in a group won by Morocco despite two changes of coach.
Cameroon were held at home by the Democratic Republic of Congo and then took just one point from a possible six against eventual table-toppers Senegal so record four-time African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto’o will be a notable absentee when the Cup of Nations is screened worldwide.
So will the ageing stars of Egypt like goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary, midfielder Mohamed Aboutreika and striker Mohamed Zidan as the country that won the last three tournaments and a record seven overall came bottom of the group won by Niger and used the Olympic squad in last two fixtures.
Apart from the co-hosts who are guaranteed places, Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d’ Ivoire, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia and Zambia have booked places and an October 29 draw in Malabo will divide them into four pools.
Photo | AFP