African Cup of Nations qualification – the key points

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The seemingly never ending fiasco surrounding the future of Nigeria’s Stephen Keshi has finally reached its culmination, with Wednesday’s critical victory over Sudan powerless to reversing a newly appointed FA’s decision to dispense with the man who in the space of a three year rein had lifted a country from its knee’s back to the continent’s footballing apex.

Testament to Keshi’s character, he had taken stewardship of the qualifiers to date in spite of not being under contract and whilst the blame for Nigeria’s lethargic performances on the pitch – an insipid defeat in Sudan on Saturday leaving them starring at the ignominy of missing the cut – partly rests on Keshi’s shoulders the Nigerian hierarchy also have plenty to answer.

 

Perhaps falsely buying into the idea that a perceived straightforward group meant Nigeria would coast through without clear leadership, the powers that be have dithered to an extent that there is now genuine viability the defending champions will not even be present defend their crown.

There is a notion that Keshi’s methods were growing tired, nonetheless it would be wide of the mark to now anticipate vast improvements given Nigeria’s success was built around a resilient collective rather than the quality of their individuals – with that cohesion gone astray the super eagles have cut a shadow of themselves.

Qualification is still viable and the temporary change might just provide the required initial oomph to kick Nigeria over the line – a win in Congo would swing the pendulum back into the super eagle’s hands – nevertheless it is difficult to envisage the West African prospering come January.

A series of near misses

For a plethora of unfancied nations, the latest round of fixtures signified an opportunity to disparage the odds and move within touching distance of a momentous qualification – yet for those sides the week was largely doused in frustration.

Four points from the opening two encounters had heightened Uganda’s aspirations of first AFCON in years, with twin fixtures against rock bottom Togo offering the opportunity of realising that dream. Things though once again turned sour in all too familiar fashion, with defeat in Kampala – an untimely first loss on home soil in over a decade – being proceeding by a potentially terminal loss in the reverse fixture.

Congo’s wait hasn’t been quite as extensive as that of the cranes, nonetheless qualification – which victory would have been virtually assured by defeating South Africa in Ponte-Noire – would have signified an astounding in accomplishment for Claude le Roy’s side.

The occasion however seemingly ousted the Congolese with a resurgent Bafana Bafana profiting from their tentative hosts to steal a 2-0 victory. If Congo are to realise their dream avoiding defeat when Nigeria visit in November is essential – to do that however they must conquer growing demons surrounding their ability in crunch situations with a faltering World Cup campaign vindication of that deficiency.

Algeria lay down the marker

The bulk of Africa’s power hitters to varying degrees have encountered numerous hairy moments in their attempts to flex their muscle on the continent’s biggest stage, however the exception to that are an Algeria side who have effortlessly negotiated their group.

Christian Gourcuff’s inception as coach has passed without the hint of a hitch, given the Algerian’s are the only side to boast maximum points and thus can already begin planning an assault on the trophy – Cape Verde have also sealed their ticket however defeat in Mozambique means they are unable to boat a completely clean record.

The desert foxes have swotted away Mali, Malawi and Ethiopia – in the process producing some breath-taking football, with Yacine Brahimi particularly worthy of individual accreditation. The group itself might not strike fear on first glance, yet both Addis Ababa and Blantyre are hurdles not to be downplayed, with the manner in which Algeria navigated those potential banana skins vindications of their unrivalled professionalism.

With several of Africa’s supposed gold standard floundering – most notably Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana – and with Burkina Faso this week showcasing elements of vulnerability Algeria undoubtedly head to Morocco as undeniable favourites.

Honeymoon turns sour for Renard

The appointment of Herve Renard was greeted with grand anticipation, for here apparently was a man finally capable of galvanising the persistently underperforming elephants – things unfortunately haven’t played out to the expected tune.

A humbling in Yaoundé to a resurgent Cameroon – the supposed floundering nation who were meant to come unstuck in a testing group – highlighted the task facing Renard and whilst victory in DR Congo indicated at a temporary easing of the tide the Ivoirians defensive deficiencies would resurface against the same opposition several days later – the Congolese prospering in an enthralling seven goal thriller.

 

That defeat was typified by all too familiar defensive blunders, with the fact that Ivory Coast have now conceded two more goals than any other side in the qualification process evidence of their brittle backline.

Of comfort to Renard will be the manner in which his ten men roared back 3-1 down – perhaps outlining the elephants are buying into the Frenchman’s philosophy – nonetheless their tactical ineptitude of continuing to push for a win will have proven equally exasperating.

The defeat has handed DR Congo a narrow advantage in the race to join liable group winners Cameroon and although the Ivoirians aren’t at crisis point just yet, their error prone defence means the plenty of nerves could be frayed on the road to Morocco.

Former champions profit in last chance saloon

Defeats to Senegal and Tunisia allowed seven time champions Egypt little room for manoeuvre in a testing Group H, nevertheless twin routine victories over a bewildered Botswana mean the Pharaoh’s at least live to fight another day.

November’s dual with the Senegalese now takes on pivotal connotations, given that a victory would move Egypt above the Teranga Lions – although with Botswana Senegal’s final assignment Egypt could be left chancing on finishing as the strongest third placed outfit given their concluding date is against virtually qualified Tunisia.

Champions as recently as 2012 and in spite of being dealt amongst the friendliest of groups a goal shy Zambia were in danger of their decline culminating in only a second missed AFCON in 14 tournaments. Two points three games meant that prospect was drawing ever closer to a reality, whilst the news that the iconic Christopher Katongo had been dispelled from camp only further added to the Chipolopolo’s woes.

Sixty goalless minutes into to their critical clash with Niger the Zambians were hanging by a thread, yet three goals in the game’s final third breathed new life into a campaign that appeared to heading only one way. Negotiate next time’s trip to Mozambique – who Zambia only lead via goal difference in the battle for second – and that prestigious qualification record might just be extended yet further.

The Author

Matt Carter

Predominantly write on all things African football for a variety of sites including Just Football and Sandals for Goal Posts, with a little bit of women's football thrown in for good measure.

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