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Africa Lighted Up in Nations Cup Qualifier

The race for places in the 2012 Gabon, Equatorial Guinea 2012 qualifier lighted up over the weekend as various countries on the continent vied to out do each other as a means or reigning supreme and as well getting the bragging rights in getting amongst the elites for Africa’s biennial football fiesta.

The ten groups brought a plethora of top notched matches to the fore as tears and joy came to the limelight, something highly rated analyst Wleh Bedell says was another intriguing round of heart breaking, nerve wrecking and scintillating football as the continent well known to have since had a reputation of prodigious football fanaticism heated up for the Central African party. Thus, the weekend of September 2-4 brought the giants and the minnows face to face on the park as the always vociferous crowd lifted their respective sides to go all the way. The team of the moment, Senegal’s Lion Teranga joined the list of qualifiers as they did the damage to visiting Leopards of Congo DR, while the biggest casualty was the ousting of Champions Egypt by Sierra Leone where they will not be available to defend their title.

In Group A, leaders Blue Sharks of Cape Verde under the tutelage of Lucio Antunes faced a tough trip away to the Eagles of Mali who eclipsed them for top spot at the Stade 26 Mars stadium in Bamako. After wining the reserve fixture 1-0, the visitors entered Saturday’s contest hoping that their hit-man Rodi of FC Porto would inspire the rest of his teammates to get the much needed result. But, the Malians under the guidance of French man Alain Giresse were quite aware that the visitors would adapt a negative style football in hoping to run away with a draw. Thus, Sochaux big-striker Modibo Maiga who is constantly under the radar of Newcastle United and co went in firing mood to punish their opponents with a resounding 3-0 triumph to move to the summit with nine points and a game in Monrovia in October against under dogs Lone Star where they will need an upright win to book automatic qualification.

The group’s other match was on Sunday with the Warriors of Zimbabwe thumping basement occupiers Liberia’s Lone Star at the national stadium in Harare. With their top scorer Knowledge Musona of German outfit Hoffeinham out due to injury, the hosts coached by Norman Mapeza depended on the attacking prowess of Danish club Sonderjysk E finisher Quincy Antipas to do the damage to the visitors and revived their hope of qualifying to move to second spot.

According to radio commentary, the Lone Star under one Roberto Landi of Italy were shell shocked, rattled and disorganized in the first half as they were virtually no match. With the front man Francis Doe not available due to his frantic search for contract after leaving Egyptian giants Al-Ahly, CSKA Moscow’s Sekou Jabateh Oliseh, goal shy Captain Anthony Snorti Laffor and the lanky Dioh Williams of Swedish side BK Haken were the trio the red, white and blue outfit relied on by some means. But, their best chance came early in the second half when Captain Anthony Laffor’s effort hit under the bar and was cleared as the Lone Star players claimed the ball had crossed the line.

Zimbabwe won thanks to goals from the 25 year old midfielder Willard Katsande of South African side Ajax Cape Town, 22 years old midfielder Ovidy Obvious Karuru from French outfit US Boulogne and 21 years old midfielder, striker Khame Billiat of Ajax Cape Town. The loss means the Lone Star are now mathematically out as even a win in the next fixture with group leaders Mali at home will be of no relevance. Thus, connoisseurs are calling for a shift in policy as far as the Lone Star is being run with respect to players selection, Coach or technical staff appointment, programs or strategies put forth by the football house as well as the team’s preparation as they look forward to their November 11 first leg away fixture to Mauritius in the preliminary of the 2014 World Cup.

Group B brought to the fore two tricky pairings with the leaders Syli National of Guinea under Michel Dussuyer pinning the Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia 1-0. Italian Serie A club Genoa 24 year old striker Kevin Constant led the Guineans onslaught at the Stade26 September in Conakry. The Ethiopians coached by Tom Sainfiet were aiming to first stop the opponents from scoring as they were counting on their 27 year old defensive linchpin Degu Debebe of local side St. George to keep the leaders at bay against his side that are third in the group. They tactics seemed to have paid off in the first half as they ended blank, but the 1976 Nations Cup runners up raised their game to rotate the score line as they got maximum three points to maintain top spot. In the other match on Sunday, Samson Siasia who was denied to coach the Lone Star of Liberia on grounds that he was not qualified as he had a B certificate (as if Liberia is better than Nigeria that have now hired him), and charges of Nigeria Super Eagles, who are second, travelled to Madagascar to face the Berea who they drubbed in the first leg.

Turkish based robust defender Joseph Yobo and the sharp shooter Victor Nsofor Obinna got the goals in the final 20 minutes despite a poor pitch as the hosts that are coached by Mosca and captained by USCA Foot rearguard Mamisoa Razafindrakoto lost 2-0 at the Mahamasina Stadium. The Nigerians lie at the second spot, three points behind the Guineans and will need a 2-0 win against Guinea in Lagos on the final match day to get automatic qualification.

The Chipolopolo of Zambia at the helm of Group C maintained top spot in the group as they won away to Les Coelecantes of Comoros at the Stade Said Mohamed Cheikh. Coach Dario Bonetti’s side is hungry to cruise to the finals of the nations’ cup and took advantage of plotting on little known Comoros that are under the tutelage of Mohamed Abderamane Chamitye. Little known Comoros were hoping to cause an upset at home and were keen on their hardworking midfielder Abdallah Mfoihaya of Norwegian club Oslo City FC to be on top of his game to electrify the rest of the team. But,Zambians got the first goal through 29 year old Christopher Katongo of Chinese club Henan Construction FC. In the other group match, the Black Mambas of Mozambique under Dutch man Mart Nooij lost away to a neutral venue in Cairo, Egypt, to troubled Greens of Libya. Prior to the contest, Coach Nooij said “Libya is in war and I don’t know as to whether some of their players have died. I have seen the DVD of the first match against us which ended 1-1 and will see whether some of those on the DVD will play on Sunday”.

He was relying on the effectiveness of midfielder Simao of Greek side Panathinaikos to make his side get the last laugh. It is not clear though which group of players was actually available for the Libyans and whether their Brazilian coach Marcos Paqueta was on hand is what pundits are still itching to know. The match was played behind close door due to security reasons with the Libyans wearing a changed outfit and defending a new flag in the post Kaddafi era. The Libya are behind Zambia by a point with the group like many other groups going to the wire on the final day when both sides meet in Lusaka to determine who gets automatic qualification, a draw will however take the Zambians through with the Libyans needing an outright win.

Morocco’s Atlas Lions who are in pole position in Group D on superior goal difference faced a tough task away to second place Wild Beasts of the Central African Republic (CAR) as both sides drew blank. Coach Eric Gerets side knew quite well they could not afford a slip against CAR as the other contenders Tanzania and Algeria who are third and fourth respectively through 1-1.

Arsenal towering striker Maroun Chamakh led the Moroccans front line against Coach Jules Accorsi side at the Stade Barthelemy Boganda. German club SV Zulte Waregem asset Habib Habibou was pushing the home side forward to eclipse the North African opponents. Morocco had plenty scoring chances according to news monitored from Bangui and even had a goal disallowed.

A rejuvenated Teranga Lions joined co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Gabon as well as Botswana and the Ivory Coast to qualify for the finals with at home against the Leopards of Congo Democratic Republic. Coach Amara Traore who sat in the stands due to suspension was hilarious in the end as his 25 years talisman finisher Mousa Sow of French champions OSC Lille punished the opponents to ensure the 2002 Nations Cup runners up qualified at the Leopald Senghor Stadium in Dakar.

The Congolese had some problems as their new coach Claude Le Roy took over just four days to the tie and did not know much of the squad. However, he was hoping his Atletico Madrid 19 year old dynamite Cedric Mabwati could help his side do the unexpected against the 1992 Nations Cup hosts but to no avail. In the other Group E match, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions who were at a surprise third spot before the match at home to Club M of Mauritius came after the first half which ended goalless to steamrolled their opponents in emphatic fashion to move to second spot and now find themselves licking their wounds hoping to be amongst the few runners up in the qualifiers. Coach Javier Clemente’s men led by World’s highest paid footballer Samuel Eto’o did win but find themselves in a very precarious situation as far as qualification is concerned. For the match, German born striker Jean Eric Maxim Choupou of Bundesliga club FSV Mainz 05 got a hat-trick in the 5-0 trouncing.

With only three teams in Group F, there was just one match with group leaders Stallions of Burkina Faso monitoring the scrimmage involving Namibia’s Brave Warriors and the Scorpions of Gambia. The match which took place on Saturday at the Independence Stadium saw coach Brian Isaac’s men fighting for the three points. Black Africa forward Willy Stephanos was the key man for the Southern Africans who won 1-0 to get their first three points.

Group G brought the giants against the minnows with South Africa Bafana Bafana guarded by Pitso Mosimane travelling to Niger where they lost 2-1 to the Mena. Tunisian club Esperance defender Dankwa Kofi scored from a header which was followed by another goal from CSKA Moscow forward Ouwo Moussa Maazou before Orlando Pirates Andile Jali pulled one back to end the match at the General Seyni Kountche Stadium. In the other match, third place Sierra Leone’s Leone Stars under the tactical leadership of the Swede Lars Olof Mattson emerged 2-1 victors over the disappointing six times African champions Egypt Pharaohs. Captain Ibrahim Kargbo rallied his men to win through a late minute penalty from 22 year old Mohammed Bangoura of Scottish side Celtic against a deplete Egyptian side that in fact had the country’s youth team order than the regulars at the senior level.

The Elephants of the Ivory Coast coached by indigenous Francois Zahoui having already qualified were only playing for pride but still managed to dump the Amavubi of Rwanda in Group H. The match which took place at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali saw Ghanaian Coach Sellas Tetteh’s men led by FC Brussels forward Jean-Paul Eale Lutula saw the Ivorians who were without the injured Didier Drogba got passed the opponents by five goals as Arsenal marauding wide man Gervais Yao Kouassi, alias Gervinho who provided several assists became a hero. The defensive rock Kolo Toure who has completed a six- month suspension on drug allegation was also part of the party in Kigali.

The other game in the group saw Burundi’s swallows hosting the Squirrels of Benin in a match that ended 1-1. The onus was on Coach Abdel Amrouche’s men that were as well led by Belgian club Genk midfielder Dugary Nlebashinze at the Prince Louis Rwagasore Stadium. The visitors who trail their opponents on goal difference were keen on an away win, something their Coach Denis Goavec and Sunderland’s incisive playmaker Stephane Sessegnon did plenty thinking about. Papy Fatty’s 90yh minute equalizer for the hosts cancelled out a Guy Akpagba’s 55th minute strike.

Four times African champions Ghana Black Stars with Coach Goran Stevanovic and the burly Captain John Mensah solidified their lead just on goal difference over Sudan in Group I when they took on pointless King’s Shield of Swaziland. Their Coach Obed Mlotsa and Captain Dennis Masina were fully aware they were on mission impossible in the giant West African football nation as they lost 2-0. Sunderland’s enigmatic forward Asamoah Gyan got one of the goals on home soil. The Black Stars group rivals Sudan managed a solitary goal victory away to Congo Brazzaville’s Red Devils, courtesy of a goal by Al Hilal’s Bakri Abdelgadi. The Sudanese Coach Mohamed Abdala and his 34 year old Captain Haitham Mustafa of local side Al Hilal looked the favorites throughout against the Congolese that are coached by Jean Guy Wallemme. Both Sudan and Ghana are tied on 13 points each with the final group game against both sides going to the wire to see who gets the automatic qualification.

Group J held two other important duels with leaders Uganda’s Cranes needing just a point away to the Palancas Negras of Angola. Coach Bobby Williamson men could not however get the much needed point at the expense of the Angolans that are under the watchful eyes of Lito Vidigal as they won 2-0. Despite the loss, the 1978 runners up still have a chance to go through on the final match day.

Kenya’s Harambee remained third with a 2-1 win against Guinea Bissau’s Djurtus. Coach Luis Norton de Matos and his team leader Niche of Portuguese side Torreense faced a tall order against the hosts Kenya that were buoyed by the presence of French club AJ Auxerre front man Denis Oliech at the Nyayo Stadium.

Finally, Group K which has already seen surprised package Botswana’s Zebras cruising to the first ever nations cup brought to bear the Sparrow Hawks of Togo pinning runaway leaders Botswana 1-0 in a rather academic contest at the Stade de Kegue. Coach Stephen Keshi was playing for nothing but pride as pillar in defense; Serge Akakpo of Slovenian side NK Celje encouraged his men to raise their game for the sake of the records. Though they have qualified, Zebras Coach Stanley Tshosane had warned his side through 35 year old Captain Modiri Marumo of Bay United in South Africa to avoid complacency and play their normal game to be in their usual imperious form that has made them stun the form book to qualify.

The Flames of Malawi with Coach Kinnah Phiri and star forward Atusaye Nyondo of Supersports United played host to the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia at the Kamuzu Stadium in a match which ended 0-0. Both sides are now on eleven points each with the North Africans in second spot behind Botswana on superior goal difference.