By Saddick Adams
Ten of Africa’s best national teams will face off in October and November in a two-legged cliffhanger of duels to determine which five representatives the continent presents at the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil.
There have been upsets in the past 24 months in the qualifiers, but finally 10 teams will have to square off when the final draw is made on September 16 in Cairo, Egypt.
Bob Bradley's Egypt won all their five matches and the only team in the qualifiers without blemish. Surprisingly, everything about the Pharaohs was not about a certain Mohammed Abutreika, it was a relatively unknown Walid Souliman that carried the politically bruised nation to the top, and also leads the top scorers’ chart in the continent's qualifiers as well.
Joining the Pharaohs is perennial underachievers Ivory Coast. Sabri Lamouchi’s men did qualify with a game to spare as expected. The Elephants’ clash with Morocco in Abidjan was more or less for nothing but pride.
The Desert Foxes of Algeria will have to clear a last hurdle to make it to Brazil after qualifying out of a group that contained Rwanda, Benin and Afcon bronze medalists Mali. Former Ivory Coast manager Vahid Halihodzic has a side that looks more set for a place in South America.
Racking in a record 18 goals, the Black Stars of Ghana are the highest scoring team in the qualifiers so far as Kwesi Appiah’s side qualified after fighting off a stiff opposition from a daring Zambia. The Ghanaians are looking to clinch a third successive World Cup slot.
Ghana’s neighbours to the north, Burkina Faso edged out an in-form Aubameyang’s Gabon side in the final day of the qualifiers in Ouagadougou. The Stallions won four out of six to pick a play-off ticket and Paul Put will have to keep on proving their Silver-winning status at the Afcon early this year in the last round of qualifiers.
Nigeria made it count on the pitch as they dispatched a determined Malawi. Led by James Sangala, the Flames promised upset but ended up with concert. The Super Eagles will have to see who prevents them from a second trip to Brazil. The African champions’ first trip was a farce in the Confederations Cup.
In Group A, paper works nearly marred a historic feat in the making though. The descendants of Emperor Haille Gebrail Selasie’s Ethiopia would have been here with 90 minutes to spare but a decision to field an unqualified player against Botswana meant the side had to wait till the last 15 minutes. The happiest man in Addis Ababa now is Abraham Abebe, the man who mistakenly approved the fielding of the ineligible player. Abebe was suspended indefinitely and had to wait for a decision till after a qualification is assured. Ethiopia, led by Sewnet Bishaw, a secondary school Physical Education instructor will make the biggest history if he reaches Brazil. Remember there was South Africa’s Bafana Bafana in this group but Ethiopia were the best.
Senegal had the last laugh. A Ba-less Teranga Lion side playing hosts to Uganda in Marakech grabbed all three points at stake to top the group. Alain Giresse will know if he can match Bruno Metsu's exploits for the West African nation.
Cape Verde, yes you read right. The tiny Portuguese island off the West Coast are among the best 10 teams. Quarter-finalists at the just ended Africa Cup of Nations, a self acclaimed friend of Jose Mourinho, Lucio Antunes just like his mentor believes in upset. A whole nation went dead silent as the Blue Sharks tuned off Tunisia in Rades - the biggest upset in the qualifiers.
Volke Finke’s Cameroon picked the final spot to join the nine other teams after battling through group I. They warded off a stern challenge from turmoil-ridden Libya who were seeking to bring back smiles to the politically divided North African nation. The sleeping giants, the famous Indomitable Lions are awake again. Whoever meets them meets a force.
On September 16 Africa’s roll call to Brazil 2014 will be known.