Monday, October 10, 2005

Winds of change in African soccer

This weekend, five African teams qualified for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. Astonishingly, four countries will participate for the first time: Angola, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. They will be joined by defending African champions Tunisia.

Perrenial giants Nigeria and Cameroon will miss out on the World Cup, for the first times since 1990 and 1986 respectively. Nigeria failed to beat Angola in their two matches against each other and thus lost out to the Palancas negras on a tiebreaker; the southern Africans were accordingly ecstatic. Cameroon was awarded a last minute penalty in their final qualifier against Egypt but Pierre Wome's spot kick slammed against the post. Cameroonian fans were not amused, though Ivorian fans were a bit more joyous.

Ghana finished ahead of South Africa and the DR Congo. Sometimes referred to as 'the Spain of Africa' in soccer terms, the Ghanaians have won a joint record four African Nations Cups but fans are celebrating their first trip to the world's biggest soccer party.

While Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana had some continental pedigree and quite a bit of international success at the youth levels, Togo's qualification was astonishing. The tiny West African country was completely unrated in the soccer world but somehow managed to top a group with more fancied sides like Senegal (2002 World Cup quarterfinalists), Mali (2002 and 2004 African Cup semifinalists) and Zambia (1994 African Cup finalists). Togo's head of state was so impressed that he declared a national holiday.

And spare a thought for Morocco. The African vice-champions went undefeated in qualifying but five of their ten matches ended in draws so the Atlas Lions lost out to their north African rivals Tunisia. (In Europe, it's also probable that either Israel, Switzerland or France will also go undefeated and fail to qualify).

Congrats to fans of Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Angola and Togo. It's good to give new fans a chance to enjoy some time in the spotlight.

Update: To say that Cameroonian fans were unamused is a gross understatement. Bloodlust might be a more appropriate term.


At 4:41 PM, Blogger Chippla Vandu said...

It is indeed interesting to see new African national teams in the World Cup. However, there is no hiding the fact that little can be expected from a country such as Togo (I would love to be proven wrong).


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