When Algeria qualified for the quarter-finals of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations, not many people outside Mali raised an eyebrow because Stephen Keshi's lads had failed to impress against Algeria after a miraculous 4-4 draw against Angola in the tournament’s opening match.
Mali ended their campaign with a 3-1 win over Malawi whilst Algeria played out a drab draw against Angola, knowing that would be enough for the next round of the competition courtesy of the head to head rule, despite scoring only once in the tournament as opposed to Mali, a side that scored seven times.
CAF stole the headlines for the wrong reasons on Thursday after the final round of matches in group D where Cameroon, Zambia and Gabon all finished on four points with all three thinking they had qualified.
However, most analysts concluded after the match that both Cameroon and Zambia had qualified, meaning that Nigeria would play Cameroon whilst Zambia were to play Egypt. But then the controversy started regarding which of the two teams had actually topped the group.
Super Eagles assistant coach, Daniel Amokachi, like most followers of the game, was not sure which team the Eagles were to tackle in the next round for a semi-final ticket, until he later announced the team received direct confirmation from CAF, a situation that should never have happened.
Gabon’s Daniel Cousin was as shocked as his team-mates, who had celebrated after their 2-1 defeat to Zambia, thinking they had qualified due to their 1-0 win over Cameroon, but CAF later explained how the head-to-head rule was just the first option in determining group winners, and not the final choice, as goals scored also mattered.
During the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, the head-to-head rule ensured Nigeria didn’t go to the finals despite having a superior goal difference to eventual group winners, Angola, and the controversy then was one of the reasons that this year’s World Cup qualifiers were played without the head-to-head rule. One would have thought CAF had learnt its lessons from that experience, but unfortunately the body again used this rule in the Angola 2010 Cup of Nations.
Anyone who watched the Algeria versus Angola match would agree that this rule should be eliminated from the Nations Cup, as it deprives people of good football. And to see a team with just one goal from three matches making it through, ahead of an attack-minded team like Mali, after finishing level on points makes it less desirable for the growth of the game in Africa.
For the round leather game to move forward in Africa, CAF should be more consistent with its rules and ensure all participating countries can interpret them without having to wait for any confirmation, because it could be argued that Gabon lost out due to the fact that they thought a decent loss could get them through. Let all teams play with the intent of winning, so the rest of the world can enjoy the beautiful game from Africa.
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