After punching above their weight in the first leg matches of the second round of the CAF qualifying tournament for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ most of the underdogs were up against the ropes in the return legs as the favourites stamped their authority on proceedings.
Nigeria progress without shining
After being held to an embarrassing goalless draw in Swaziland, the Super Eagles did little to impress their home fans against the southern African country. Nigerian coach Sunday Oliseh stressed before the match how far the Swazi side had come, but even he couldn’t have imagined his side having to wait until the 141st minute of the tie for their first goal, which finally came just after the halftime break through 20-year-old winger Moses Simon. Efe Ambrose made sure of his side’s progress with a goal three minutes from the end.
Comoros hold their own
Like Nigeria, Ghana struggled to a scoreless draw in the first leg against Comoros, and like the Super Eagles the Black Stars coasted to a 2-0 victory without hitting higher gear. Even though Wakaso Mubarak gave the west Africans an early lead, they could not capitalise on the chances they created and it was only five minutes from the end that Jordan Ayew managed to make sure of Ghana’s place in the group phase.
South Africa too strong for Palancas Negras
Angola were surprise finalists at Germany 2006, but their hopes of repeating that success ended after just two matches as they lost 1-0 in South Africa to be knocked out 4-1 on aggregate. Bafana Bafana, who seem to be emerging from a footballing slump, had already won the first leg in Benguela 3-1 and could afford to change the side for the return leg. Angola suffered a second defeat as Manucho Diniz scored into his own goal midway through the second half.
Close for the Harambee Stars
Although Kenya stunned Cape Verde 1-0 in Nairobi in the first leg, coach Bobby Williamson said that they were still considered the underdogs to go through. Unfortunately for Harambee Stars fans his words were to prove to be prophetic as star striker Heldon grabbed a goal in both halves for a 2-0 win that gave the Blue Sharks a 2-1 aggregate victory.
Goals galore in Algeria
Algeria responded to their shock 2-2 draw in the first leg against Tanzania with a performance befitting their recent success, slamming seven past the Taifa Stars in the home match. Islam Slimani, who scored both for his side as they came back from two goals down in the away leg, added two more to take his tally from the two matches to four. Faouzi Ghoulam also scored two as Algeria remain on track for a third consecutive World Cup appearance.
Pharaohs back on track
If Algeria’s draw in Tanzania was an upset, Egypt’s 1-0 defeat in Chad in the first leg was a sensation. However the seven-time African champions rebounded with a convincing 4-0 victory in Alexandria. Mohamed El Neney, Abdallah Saied and a Ahmed Hassan brace all came in the first half to make the match a low-key affair.
Not too long ago Morocco knocking out Equatorial Guinea would not have been considered as an upset. However, while the Nzalang Nacional have steadily climbed up the FIFA/Coca-Cola rankings in recent years, the Atlas Lions have gradually gone in the opposite direction. After losing 2-0 in Morocco in the first leg, Equatorial Guinea always knew they had a struggle on their hand. Scottish-based Rui gave the home side some hope with a 14th minute goal, but as they failed to find the net again, they will have to watch from the sidelines when the group phase is played.
Uganda is one of the African teams that has enjoyed a small – yet mostly constant – rise in the world rankings. Four years ago the Cranes were 91st in the world, they now find themselves ranked 68th. Their improvement started with Scottish coach Bobby Williamson and has continued under his successor, Serbian Milutin Sredojevic. Both coaches managed to blend a strong team by combining the raw talent of young players with the experience offered by seasoned campaigners. One of the youngsters to be given a chance to shine has been Farouk Miya and the forward has taken to the task like a duck to water. The teenager scored the only goal of the match as the Cranes beat Togo in the first leg and then scored twice in the 3-0 return leg victory.
20 – When the qualification competition for Russia 2018 started, 53 African countries entered the race. 13 of them were eliminated in the first round, and a further 20 found their hopes of making it to the finals ended after the second round. That leaves 20 teams for whom the dream of a place at the finals continues.
What they said
“We expect a tough draw after this. All of the teams left are good, which is why they have reached the group stage,” the president of the Zambian football association and former international player Kalusha Bwalya said after Zambia beat Sudan 2-0 to secure a 3-0 aggregate victory.