WC qualifying: Surprises and resignations

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Cape Verde celebrate after their qualification against Tunisia.GettyImagesCape Verde celebrate after their qualification against Tunisia.

Surprises and resignations are the two biggest talking points after a round of important internationals and the final group stage matches of the African qualification for the 2014 World Cup had both.

The 500,000-strong island nation of Cape Verde celebrated an unlikely progression for the last step on the road to Brazil, the two-legged playoffs, while Ethiopia and Burkina Faso were also unexpected entrants into the final stage. But for the vanquished, heads had to roll. Nabil Maaloul of Tunisia and Tom Saintfiet of Malawi both resigned as an apology to fans for their failure to progress.

It's unlikely that Lucio Antunes, the air-traffic controller who is in charge of Cape Verde, would have done the same if his team fell at the final hurdle. Their progression came through a combination of good luck and a stellar performance when it mattered most, but even if they hadn't got over the line, Antunes would not have had reason to feel remorse.

- Nigeria, Ethiopia through to play-offs

Cape Verde, despite qualifying for the 2013 African Nations Cup (ANC) and impressing at that thanks to a well-controlled midfield and clear patterns of play, were out of the running for the two-legged playoffs after four matches. They only found themselves back in contention when they were awarded points because Equatorial Guinea had fielded an ineligible player in both their earlier encounters.

The result took them from no-hopers to being able to snap at the heels of North African giants Tunisia. Still, it was a big ask for Cape Verde to have to win in Rades. The only previous victory in the group was achieved at home against Sierra Leone. Yet against the run of play, they put two goals past Tunisia in the first half to claim a memorable victory, perhaps only matched by their beating of Cameroon to qualify for the ANC in the previous year.

Congo missed out on the opportunity to record something similar after drawing against Niger in their final game. Congo, who have had a good last 12 months -- which includes their team AC Leopards qualifying for the main draw of the CAF Champions League -- were the pacesetters in their pool and led for most of the early matches, although their first victory was awarded to them because Burkina Faso fielded someone they should not have.

They beat Niger at home but the journey to Niamey proved too tough and they were held to an exciting 2-2 draw. Burkina Faso surged after their early setback and won all their other matches to ensure they leapfrogged the Congolese hopefuls into the final round.

Similarly, Ethiopia did not suffer too badly as a result of breaking the rules. The East African nation, who also came to the fore at the ANC with their brand of entertaining, attacking football, were docked points for including a player who was not properly qualified to represent them against Botswana. That took them from being assured of topping their group to needing to beat Central African Republic on the final weekend.

After going 1-0 down, Ethiopia came back to secure the win and in so doing ensured South Africa were dumped out of contention. Gordon Igesund's position will now sit precariously, especially as he failed to fulfil both ultimatums of his job: finish in the top four of the ANC and qualify for Brazil.

He may feel forced to follow the lead of Maaloul, who took full responsibility for Tunisia's defeat to Cape Verde and stepped down. Maaloul is an accomplished manager, who has also previously been in charge of Esperance, but the underperformance of the Carthage Eagles meant he had to fall on his sword.

Saintfeit's decision was more unexpected, especially as Nigeria were clear favourites to beat Malawi in the lead-up to the match. Malawi ensured they stayed toe to toe with the continental champions for much of the qualifying but found Stephen Keshi's side too strong for them in Calabar.

The personal battle between Saintfeit and Keshi was overshadowed by Nigeria's 2-0 victory and it was that result which Saintfeit took as a sign that his time with Malawi was up. "I never was here to win many games. I was here to win one game -- against Nigeria, and that was the only goal," he said.

Many managers will feel the same way about the next set of matches because they will determine who represents the continent in Brazil. The draw for the ties will be made next Monday in Cairo and the matches will be played in October and November.

Before the year is out, Africa will know which five teams can start preparing for South America and which coaches may be forced to leave their posts as a result of not getting there.

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