Because the Confederation of African Football scheduled three of its Cup of Nations tournaments in just four years, qualification for the 2014 World Cup finals was assigned a hasty, bizarre format.
Following a playoff stage that involved the CAF’s lowest-ranked 24 sides, a 40-team group stage was drawn to determine the 10 participants (one from each bracket) to contest a final playoff round—the five winners of which will progress to Brazil.
Those 10 teams were mostly determined on Friday and Saturday, with a crucial Sunday encounter between Cameroon and Libya scheduled to set up the playoff draw, which will be held on September 18 in Cairo.
Following are brief recaps of some of the weekend’s biggest matches in African qualifying, beginning with a make-or-break contest between Tunisia and Cape Verde and concluding with a look at the teams that have already booked a spot in the playoffs.
A surprise quarterfinalist at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, Cape Verde booked their spot in the third round of African qualifying with an impressive 2-0 win over Group B runners-up Tunisia in Rades.
Tunisia came into the match two points above the Blue Sharks in the table, and their position would have been even more commanding had they been able to turn recent draws against Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea into wins.
But first-half goals from Platini and Heldon put Cape Verde on track for a historic win, and at the final whistle, Tunisia manager Nabil Maaloul tendered his resignation.
A dramatic Saturday in Group A saw South Africa need to beat Botswana in Durban and Ethiopia lose to Central African Republic in Brazzaville in order for Bafana Bafana to advance to the World Cup.
A Bernard Parker brace and goals from Kermit Erasmus and Dean Furman saw South Africa hold up their end of the bargain, but after falling behind to a Salif Keita opener Ethiopia stormed back with a pair of second-half goals from Saladin Said and Minyahil Teshome to finish atop the standings.
Ethiopia, who have never qualified for a World Cup finals, also participated at the 2013 Cup of Nations and finished fourth in Group C, behind Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Zambia.
Ghana’s place in the playoffs came down to the final day of the Group D action when they hosted second-place Zambia in Kumasi.
Zambia—the 2012 Cup of Nations winners—came into the match just one point adrift of the Black Stars but found themselves behind after just 17 minutes through Majeed Waris’ opener.
Kwadwo Asamoah doubled the hosts’ advantage just after the hour mark, and while Nathan Sinkala made things interesting when he pulled one back for Zambia in the 72nd minute, Ghana held on for the narrow victory.
With only a single point separating Group J leaders and second-place Uganda coming into Saturday’s final round of play, the stage was set for a historic upset in Marrakech, where the decisive match between the two sides was played.
And it went right down to the wire.
With Uganda needing only a single breakthrough to pull the upset and progress into the playoffs, Sadio Mane popped up with what proved to be the winner in the 84th minute to take Senegal into the next round.
Nigeria could have sewn up a place in the playoffs on Matchday 5, but due to a come-from-behind draw away to Namibia it all came down to the final day for the reigning African champions, who hosted second-place Malawi in the Group F decider on Saturday.
This time there were no hiccups.
After Emmanuel Emenike put the Super Eagles ahead in the first-half stoppage time there was no looking back, and Victor Moses put the finishing touches on a 2-0 win with a successful penalty conversion just six minutes after the restart.
The following sides have already put their names in the pot for the September 18 playoff draw in Cairo: Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria and Senegal.
Sunday’s showdown between Cameroon and Libya in Yaounde will determine the final participant.
Teams will be drawn randomly and the two-legged ties will be played in mid-October and mid-November.