Zambia's loss to Sudan & the top five surprises of the 2014 African WCQ first round matches ranks the surprise results from the first day of 2014 World Cup qualifying in Africa while revealing why certain shocks were not completely unexpected
By Rami Ayari

The first round of matches that will determine which teams from Africa progress to the next and final stage of 2014 World Cup qualifying were played at various venues this past weekend and plenty of surprises were in store for onlookers from around the continent.

Some might argue that results such as Morocco’s 1-1 away draw to Gambia should be considered an upset, but the Atlas Lions have been struggling to establish a group identity since the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and thus the result against the feisty Scorpions in Banjul was not completely unexpected. Eric Gerets clearly still has a great deal of work to do and the distraction of possibly becoming Belgium’s national team coach has been a distraction.

Two other results that did not make the list of surprises were Niger's goalless draw with Gabon in Niamey, and Angola being unable to overcome Uganda at home in a game that ended 1-1. Based on reputation alone, the results were unexpected. However, a closer look will show that in the past two years, Niger are a notoriously tough nut to crack at home and Uganda finished just one point behind the Palancas Negras in 2012 Afcon qualifying. In fact, the Cranes posted a resounding 3-0 win over Lito Vidigal’s side at the beginning of that campaign.

On the other hand, Senegal’s 3-1 comeback win over Liberia did come as a surprise. That is not to say that no one expected the Teranga Lions to beat the Lone Stars at home, but given the manner in which the Senegalese fell apart at the most recent continental tournament and the instability within the national team, the way in which their victory was achieved was a shock to many - albeit a pleasant one.

Below, looks at the five biggest upsets from the first round of fixtures in the African World Cup qualification series.


Group F: Kenya 0-0 Malawi

For a team that was only knocked out of the 2012 Afcon finals through an extremely late equaliser against Chad last year, more was expected from Malawi in this game against the Harambee Stars. Even though they were playing away from home, the Flames were set to build on their past successes in the same situation, especially their dramatic comeback from a 2-0 deficit while playing with 10 men against a much more experienced Tunisia side on September 4, 2010.

Instead of going levelled on points with Nigeria, Kinnah Phiri’s men only managed to collect  draw in Nairobi. The result puts extra emphasis on their upcoming match against the Super Eagles at the Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre this weekend. A loss there could complicate things a great deal for a team that many thought were on the rise in Africa. Was the game against the east Africans a momentary setback or a sign of more adversity to come?


Group A: Central Africa Republic 2-0 Botswana

Similarly to the aforementioned Malawi, Botswana’s 2-0 loss away to the Central Africa Republic was a shock result, based on recent continental form. It was merely a year ago that the Zebras sealed their qualification to their first-ever participation at the Afcon.

They also qualified ahead of all other countries in a group that included 2004 title winner, Tunisia. Botswana shocked the continent by beating the north Africans home and away during that campaign yet here they are starting another with a 2-0 defeat to a relatively underwhelming Centrafrique outfit. It is a particularly bad result for Stanley Tshosane’s side, who host fellow under-performers South Africa this weekend.


Group H: Benin 1-0 Mali

There’s a case to be made for Benin’s first-ever win over Mali being higher up this list, especially considering just how poorly the Squirrels did in 2012 Afcon qualifying and how well their most recent opponents did at the same tournament.

The Hawks finished third at the 2012 edition of Africa’s most prestigious international championship, knocking out hosts Gabon on the way and beating 2010 World Cup heroes Ghana in the third-place game. For those reasons, hardly anyone would have predicted such a result a week ago.

Omotoyossi scored the lone goal on 18 minutes, allowing Benin to beat the Malians for the first time in their history. The unstable political situation in Mali has likely had an influence here but credit should not be taken away from Benin, who had entered the clash as the underdogs.


Group D: Sudan 2-0 Zambia

Whenever the defending African champions lose a qualifier, it’s always big news. Second-half goals from Muhannad Tahir and Sail Eldin Ali Masawi gave the Falcons of Jediane a stunning 2-0 victory over the Chipolopolo in Khartoum. With that said, this is not an altogether shocking result as Sudan are far from minnows.

Mohamed “Mazda” Abdalla’s side lost by only a solitary goal to beaten 2012 Afcon finalists Cote d’Ivoire in January and also managed to make it to the second round against the odds. Incidentally, it was Zambia who beat them 3-0 in the quarter-finals, which makes this most recent result all the more unlikely.

In any case, Sudan have definitely made things tricky for the Zambians, who now face the tough prospect of hosting a Ghanaian side that smashed seven goals past poor Lesotho. The current kings of Africa will now have an uphill battle on their hands.


Group A: South Africa 1-1 Ethiopia

This might be a bit harsh, but should we have expected much more from a team that celebrated crashing out of 2012 Afcon qualifiers as if they had succeeded? Cruel jokes aside, South Africa’s 1-1 home draw against Ethiopia on the first day of 2014 World Cup qualifying was nothing short of disastrous for Bafana Bafana.

The indisputably dismal result cost Pitso Mosimane his job and the fallout may continue under his successor, whoever it may be, with assistant Steve Komphela stepping into the limelight in a caretaker role. Things could have been much worse too as it took the 2010 World Cup hosts until the 77th minute to level through Katlego Mphela.

Needless to say, a lot more is expected from the South Africans, who so far have failed to build on their respectable showing on the world stage two years ago. Now they must travel to Gaborone to face an equally desperate Botswana side this weekend, a tough position to be in for a team that are on a six-game winless streak.

Follow Rami Ayari on