An engrossing weekend of African qualifiers saw some teams take crucial footsteps toward Brazil next summer, while others drifted away through complacency and ill-fortune—for some of the continent’s sides a place in the sunlight has never seemed so far away.
The weekend was characterised by a number of crucial slipups, teams unable to capitalise on the chances crafted, or others struggling to defend with consistency and composure for the full 90 minutes. While some of these slipups served to blast certain groups wide open at this, the halfway stage of proceedings, others consolidated the standings, pushing certain teams even closer to what might be a golden destiny.
Congo are the surprise leaders of Group E—the central Africans currently stand on nine points, six ahead of the other teams in their selection, including Burkina Faso and Gabon. The Red Devils picked up another crucial three points on Saturday as Chris Samba’s goal saw off neighbours Gabon. Despite battering Niger 4-0, Afcon finalists Burkina Faso will have their work cut out to progress.
If Congo beat Gabon in their next match, they can progress, providing there is a draw in the other game.
The post-Golden Generation era of the Ivory Coast kicked off in style in Abidjan with a 3-0 defeat of Gambia. Without the talismanic Didier Drogba, the Elephants took a little while to kick into gear, but second-half goals from Wilfried Bony, Yaya Toure and Salomon Kalou helped them see off the challenge of the minnows.
Another dismal result for a star-studded Morocco side, who went down 3-1 in Tanzania, has all but eliminated them from the running. If results don’t go their way in June, the Atlas Lions can forget all about any potential trip to South America next summer.
Afcon darlings Cape Verde have lost three out of three in Group B and are cut off from the other teams in the standings. With a home victory against Sierra Leone on Saturday evening, Tunisia are five points clear of the other sides in their series and look in pole position to advance from the group. Victory over Sierra Leone in Freetown could seal progression
Nigeria’s post-Afcon existence endured a stuttering start in Calabar with a Group F clash against Kenya. Despite a euphoric reception from the home fans, the Super Eagles struggled to kick into gear—they went behind to a first-half free kick from Francis Kahata, a delightful delivery that left Vincent Enyeama with no chance.
The Super Eagles rallied in the second half but lacked inspiration and struggled to break down the unambitious Harambee Stars. Eventually, the home side got their lucky break, with youngster Nnamdi Oduamadi firing home from a scrappy corner in the 93rd minute. It saved the blushes of the continental champions, and ensured that their long, unbeaten record against Kenya continues.
A win for Malawi away in Namibia keeps the Flames in the hunt for a first World Cup berth—if things continue in this vein, their crunch game against Nigeria in September could be the tensest of occasions.
Elsewhere, wins for Cameroon, Mali, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa keep them in the hunt for a place at the finals, while draws for Senegal, and Zambia—who failed to beat tiny Lesotho—have left them with work to do, and preparation to undertake, ahead of the next round of qualifiers in June.