The first day of Africa’s World Cup Qualifying play-offs provided nine goals, high drama and two excellent, intense encounters.
In Ouagadougou, in the earlier of the two fixtures, Burkina Faso beat Algeria 3-2 in a pulsating contest. In the later kick-off, Cote d’Ivoire appear to have one foot in the door after besting Senegal 3-1 in Abidjan.
This article looks back at those two fixtures and reports on the current state of affairs between the four featured nations.
Burkina Faso 3, Algeria 2
With continental giants Ghana and Egypt drawing each other in this, the play-off round, each of these two weaker sides escaped a meeting with one of Africa’s truly menacing nations.
Burkina Faso and Algeria will have been delighted to have been drawn against one another.
As this contest demonstrated, both sides have their strengths, but each have their weaknesses as well, particularly in defence.
Burkina Faso, with the attacking triumvirate of Aristide Bance, Jonathan Pitroipa and Prejuce Nakoulma sparkling, reminded the watching world of the verve and vitality they brought to the Africa Cup of Nations earlier in the year. They were, again, direct and courageous in attack, while the likes of Florent Rouamba, Djakaridja Kone and Charles Kabore provided the stability and, to a point, the solidity further back.
While the Stallions were the great overachievers in the African Cup of Nations, Algeria were the tournament’s underachievers. They were eliminated swiftly after some dire group-stage performances.
Their weaknesses were again evident against the Burkinabe.
Pitroipa was brought down in the box after some reckless defending by the hapless Essaid Belkalem. The Watford man was relieved to see Aristide "Chip Head" Bance’s penalty effort saved, but his luck ran out toward the end of the game.
Late on, he was adjudged to have handballed inside the box, and this time, Bance made no mistake, firing past Rais M’bolhi to secure a 3-2 victory. Belkalem may well feel harshly done by, as he had made an attempt to get his arms behind his back before contact was made. In truth, however, his blundering defensive "work" in the first half was so clumsy that a second penalty was probably just.
Bance, as was often the case at the AFCON, was the game’s lightning rod and its most influential contributor. As reassuring as his redemption will have felt by the contest’s end, the tie is not over. Algeria, while disheartened at the manner in which they relinquished the initiative, will surely be confident of overturning the deficit in Blida on November 19.
Their two away goals may prove to be extremely valuable, and should Adlene Guedioura begin from the start, or Ryad Boudebouz reclaim his place in the side, the Stallions could be in for a rocky ride.
Cote d’Ivoire 3 Senegal 1
Rarely have an international side looked so composed, so unruffled and so assured in such a pivotal, tense clash with so much on the line. The team’s only concession to nerves was Didier Zokora’s decision to look away and gaze toward the heavens as Didier Drogba struck an early penalty.
Zokora had no need to fear, however, and once the former Chelsea forward had put the Elephants ahead, the outcome of the tie rarely looked in doubt.
While the Cote d’Ivoire were overwhelming favourites ahead of the fixture, there were ripples within the media, ahead of the clash, with people suggesting that Senegal might have enough about them to upset the odds and hurt the Elephants.
Drogba, Zokora and Co. were disappointing at the recent AFCON, and while they still boast some of the continent’s biggest names, too many of them are the wrong side of 30. Despite their relentless recent qualifying record, the Ivorians have too often flattered to deceive at the business end of tournaments.
Could this tricky qualifying clash have been the undoing of the cocky, swaggering Golden Generation?
In the end, we’ll never truly know.
Gervinho was brought down by Cheikhou Kouyate in the opening minutes, and Drogba didn’t think twice with the spot-kick. The sides were on level terms for less than five minutes. It was an unmitigated disaster for Alain Giresse and his Teranga Lions. Lamine Sane’s unfortunate own goal, also in the opening 15 minutes, all but killed the tie as a contest, with the home side cruising and the visitors in hopeless disarray.
Soon after the break, the Ivorians once again struck ruthlessly. Salomon Kalou was played in behind the Senegalese defence and made no mistake with the finish.
A late goal by the visitors—Papiss Cisse beating Copa Barry at his near post—dampened the mood, but realistically speaking, Cote d’Ivoire can begin dreaming of Brazil next summer.
Their two-goal advantage and the fact that the return leg will be played at the Mohamed V Stadium in Casablanca, rather than before a partisan Senegalese audience, will surely undermine any attempts by Giresse and his troops to book their spot on the Copacabana next summer.
The play-offs continue Sunday, with Ethiopia welcoming Africa’s champions Nigeria to Addis Ababa and Cameroon making the trip to Rades to meet Tunisia.