The Fifa World Cup qualifying system in Africa is flawed

In this article, Goal explains why the World Cup qualifying format doesn't produce the best five teams in Africa


By Ignat Manjoo

The pots are ready for Monday’s draw, based on the latest Fifa rankings the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Tunisia and Nigeria are the seeded teams. They could face any of the teams in Pot 2: Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Ethiopia.

Arguably, Africa’s three strongest teams are 2013 Afcon champions Nigeria, then the squad with the greatest depth Ghana, followed by top seeds Ivory Coast. It should be in Africa’s interest for the best five teams to qualify for Brazil. However, either of these teams could face Egypt, who are in Pot 2, despite performing the best from all nations in the group stage.

Even if the Pharaohs avoid the 'big three', they could face a repeat of their 2010 Fifa World Cup playoff against Algeria which was a controversially violent clash between both sides of opposing fans off the field. Caf wouldn’t want to witness another bloody incident, particularly in light of the uprising which has escalated in Egypt and surrounding countries.

World Cup 2014 Africa qualification draw | Pots

  • Ghana
  • Ivory Coast
  • Algeria
  • Tunisia
  • Nigeria
  • Egypt
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Senegal
  • Ethiopia

Tunisia are in Pot 1, despite being placed second in their group and only progressing late by default of Cape Verde fielding a suspended player. I am most surprised that this has occurred on a number of occasions in the African qualifiers to the likes of even Ethiopia. How unprofessional can national teams get that they can’t keep record of their own players suspensions? How do they expect to then monitor their opponents accurately, if they don’t know what’s happening with their own players?

It is baffling that even South Africa didn’t know the format of the Caf 2012 Afcon group qualifiers, when they wrongly and embarrassingly celebrated their draw against Sierra Leone as if they had qualified. This time Bafana thought they needed to beat Ethiopia away, and Fifa's sanction came too late.

Anyway, I believe the main flaw with the World Cup qualifying format in the African Zone is that there’s just four teams in each group. You can’t properly assess a group when there’s just six matches played in total, as first spot could be decided by just a single game. Now we see that even suspensions are qualifying teams to the next round. There should be six teams per group with 10 matches.

One might think my complaint is due to Bafana’s misfortune, as Bernard Parker’s own goal against Ethiopia decisively swung the group. No. I personally believe that Bafana Bafana are not one of the top five teams in Africa in any case. So, even if they made it to the playoffs, there are more than five teams superior to South Africa.

To illustrate what’s wrong with the system: Can you imagine if European nations were divided into about 20 groups, and then all the first placed teams faced each other in a playoff? Hypothetically, after winning all their group games, why should a top team like Spain then be punished to play a team like Portugal in a playoff? It’s not fair on either team. Clearly, the winner of proper groups should be awarded with a World Cup berth. Playoffs should only be a backdoor for a few second placed teams.

The draw for the final playoff stage will take place at 12h00 (local Egypt time) on Monday, September 16. There will also be a draw for each match to determine which team plays host first. The home and away play-off matches will be played between 11-15 October (1st legs) and 15-19 November (2nd legs).

Follow Goal South Africa hief Editor Ignat Manjoo on twitter here