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With the 10 finalists at the play-off stages in the Africa region of the World Cup qualifiers known, Goal examines how some giants fell along the way

FEATURE
By Michael Appiah

After a thrilling and exciting weekend of drama and dicey duels around the African continent in the Caf/Fifa World Cup qualifiers the 10 finalists are known now.

It was an intriguing weekend of mouth-watering fixtures as teams in seven out of the 10 groups in the qualifiers had to go down the wire for places in the play-off stage. Only the Ivory Coast, Algeria and Egypt had qualified before the final round of matches in the group stages.

GIANT KILLERS | Cape Verde saw off Tunisia

If the three points that were deducted from Ethiopia’s accumulated points before the final group match by FIFA was a ‘design’ to liven things up in Group A, then it really worked to perfection.

The Bafana Bafana of South Africa having been given this valuable lifeline knew very well that nothing, but comprehensive victory against Botswana was what they would need to make it to the next stage.

However, they also had it at the back of their minds that victory for the Ethiopians against the Central Africa Republic in Brazzaville would render the outcome of their (South Africa) game meaningless. Therefore, they monitored the Walia Antelopes with keen interest.

The noise at the Moses Mabhinda Stadium in Durban reached fever pitch when news reached the fans that the CAR had shot into the lead in the 24th minute, through Salif Keita. Five minutes later, the fans had more to cheer about when Orlando Pirates striker Kemit Erasmus put the Bafana Bafana in the lead.

The South Africans emphasized their seriousness on qualifying for next year’s World Cup when they doubled their lead on the stroke of half time through Dean Furman.

It was all jollity and warmth at this stage as the 2010 World Cup hosts marched gallantly into the dressing room for recess knowing very well that the Ethiopians were trailing by a lone goal.

The second half, however, had a totally different story to tell. The Walia Antelopes’ effort paid off in the next half. The equaliser came early in the second half through their prolific striker Said Salahdin.

The Central Africans could not contain the heat, and 13 minutes later, the Ethiopians shot into the lea. The winner through Teshome was all the Ethiopians needed to make it to the play-offs stage and effectively render the emphatic victory the South Africans recorded over the Zebras of Botswana (4-1) useless.

If South Africa’s inability to qualify ahead of a less fancied Ethiopia would be described as a disappointment, then Cape Verde’s triumph and qualification at the expense of the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in Group B would be described as the stunner of the week.

Although it was obvious from the look of things in the group that, writing off the Cape Verdeans would be a perilous mistake, it was just difficult to imagine that the Islanders could give the Tunisians a shock of their lives in their own backyard in Rades. Two first half goals from Platini and Heldon were all they needed to silence the North African giants who have qualified for the World Cup finals on four occasions.

In Group D, the Black Stars brought the war of words and the psychological warfare to a halt, when they defeated the Chipolopolo of Zambia 2-1 at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi; to book their place for the play offs.

It was a sweet victory for the Ghanaians, as it served as a revenge for the back-to-back defeats they had suffered at the hands of the Chipolopolo. It was also the first time the Ghanaians had beaten their southern African counterparts in a competitive game since 1992.

Life in Group E was expected to be as interesting as Group A, and surely it was. The Congolese who were the group leaders needed a win against the Nigeriens in Niamey to be sure of qualification into the playoffs. In the case of a draw, the Congolese would then have to hope the Burkina Faso-Gabon game also ended in a draw.

The stakes were therefore very high, as the Congolese could not afford to slip in Niamey, thereby leaving their destiny in the other Group E game which could go any way.

However, the resilience of the Nigeriens who were considered to be the whipping boys of the group proved to be too much for the Congolese to handle. The Stallions of Burkina Faso went through as the group winners after the Nigeriens held the Congolese to a 2-2 drawn game, whilst the Burkinabe piped the Gabonese by a lone goal.

African Champions Nigeria left no stone unturned when they dispatched the Flames of Malawi 2-0. Two unanswered goals from returnee, Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses were all the Nigerians needed to qualify for the play-offs.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon who missed out on this year’s Afcon to less fancied Cape Verde gave their fans something to smile about when they beat the Mediterranean Knights of Libya by a lone goal in Cameroon.

In Group J, Senegal who made the whole of Africa proud in the 2002 FIFA World Cup declared their intentions of making another appearance at the soccer showpiece when an 86th minute goal from Sadio Mane tamed the stubborn Ugandan side in Dakar.

This victory by Senegal brought the number of countries who have qualified for the playoffs to 10 - Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ethiopia, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Cameroon, Burkina Faso who have proved to everyone that their impressive showing in the CAN earlier this year was not a fluke, and the giant killers, Cape Verde.

The five countries that will be ranked highest in the FIFA rankings this Thursday will be seeded to play against any of the other lower ranked teams in the playoffs.

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