|Brace yourself: Nigeria's Emmanuel Emenike|
Nearly four years and an Arab Spring or two after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it’s the usual suspects who are looking likely to qualify for Brazil 2014.
Nearly four years on, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Algeria – the five sides who qualified with hosts Bafana Bafana in the last global footballing saga – are once again the favourites to fill Africa’s ‘big five’ qualifying spots after the first legs of CAF’s unjust qualifiers.
Favourites Ghana don’t take on riot-ravaged Egypt until tomorrow night, when they play their first leg in Kumasi but Didier Drogba’s Ivory Coast and African Nations Cup champions Nigeria cruised to their expected first leg victories over the weekend.
Former Chelsea veteran Drogba scored the opening goal for the Elephants against Senegal with Lamine Sane then providing an own goal before another Chelsea old boy Salomon Kalou made it three in the 50th minute.
Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse pulled one back for Senegal but it was Arsenal’s unwanted Gervinho, now playing in Italy for Roma, who pulled the strings for the Ivory Coast, playing a part in all three goals and setting up Africa’s top-ranked nation for qualification with a two-goal cushion.
The Cote D’Ivoire have gone 20 games without defeat in World Cup qualifying – they’ve won 14 and drawn six since a 3-2 loss against Cameroon in September 2005.
Nigeria coped reasonably well in Addis Ababa against South Africa’s Group A nemesis Ethiopia. The loudly backed home side, desperate for a first World Cup finals appearance, dominated early on and – after a goalless first half - deserved to go ahead in the 57th minute through Behailu Assefa.
But it was that man Emmanuel Emenike – who played for two years in South Africa five years ago with Mpumalanga Blacks Aces and FC Cape Town – who silenced the Walya Antelopes with an equaliser followed by a last-gasp penalty to secure a narrow away advantage before the return to Nigeria.
Game of the weekend came in Ougadougou where Burkina Faso saw off Algeria but gave away what could be two decisive away goals in a 3-2 win over visiting Algeria. The Burkinabians, finalists at AFCON in South Africa earlier this year, went 2-0 up through Jonathan Pitroipa and Djakaridja Kone.
Sofiane Feghouli and Carl Medjani made it 2-2 before Fortunate Dusseldorf-based Aristide Bance, who had a first half penalty saved by Adi Mbolhi, scored the winner from the spot after a highly-controversial 86th minute handball decision. Algeria remain in pole position despite defeat though Stallions coach Paul Put insists: “We will go to Algiers with every intention of qualifying.”
Tunisia, only in the play-offs because upstarts Cape Verde fell foul of the rules, gave Cameroon a tough ride in Rades but couldn’t find a way past the Indomitable Lions’ French-based goalkeeper Charles Itandj.
With Chelsea’s experienced on-loan striker Samuel Eto’o returning for the umpteenth time after international retirement, Cameroon nearly snatched it through Peirre Webo. This one might be the tightest second leg of the lot, but Yaounde should be celebrating when the second legs are played in mid-November.
And what of South Africa? Held 1-1 by fellow-non-qualifiers Morocco in Agadir on Friday night, this from Dean Furman on Twitter sums it up: “Solid showing for Bafana last night against a strong Moroccan side. Congratulations to the young boys making their debut. Hopefully the start of big things in the future.”
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