Spot kicks in the spotlight in African WCQ playoffs

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Didier Drogba celebrates scoring from the spot against Senegal.GettyImagesDidier Drogba celebrates scoring from the spot against Senegal.

Spot kicks were in the spotlight in the final round of Confederation of African Football qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, and they could yet prove decisive on the road to Brazil. Penalties played starring roles in three of the four completed playoff first legs, and Ghana and Egypt will hope to avoid their clash on Tuesday being defined by the same.

The most careless of the penalties was given away by Ethiopia, who allowed Nigeria to earn a late 2-1 victory in Addis Ababa and take a clear advantage back home. Ethiopia will be gutted by the final score, especially after they started aggressively, dominated proceedings for the first hour and looked settled enough to upset the African champion.

Ethiopia took the lead in style, with Behailu Assefa beating Super Eagles goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, but slowly seemed to have the energy sapped out of them. Nigeria equalised 11 minutes later through Emmanuel Emenike, and as desperation crept in, Aynalem Hailu brought Emenike down, who took the penalty himself and allowed Nigeria to surge ahead. The tackle was needless, the result was obvious, and despite a few chances for Ethiopia in the dying minutes, they could not make up for the error.

Moonda: The final before the cup

Ethiopia's collapse probably illustrates why Nigeria would make better a World Cup participant. As an energetic and enthusiastic side, Ethiopia are a joy to watch when things are going their way. As soon as they fall behind, though, their body language changes and their style of play becomes more inward-looking. Nigeria, on the other hand, are used to prolonged periods of being up against it and have developed the temperament to fight back regardless. But we didn't need a penalty to tell us that.

Similarly, a spot kick was not the only sign that Ivory Coast were, by some distance, the better team in their West African derby against Senegal. Ivory Coast opened the scoring through Didier Drogba in the fifth minute and marched commandingly on to secure a 3-1 victory on home soil.

The contest was always expected to be physically tough, and Cheick Kouyate underlined that when he fouled Gervinho to present Drogba with an opportunity to fire home from the penalty spot. Gervinho was involved in the second goal, as well, helped by a deflection from an opponent. Ivory Coast led by three goals early in the second half.

The damage could have been worse. Yaya Toure's effort was blocked and Senegal pulled one back, but their ill-discipline is cause for concern. Cheick Tiote was cautioned, ruling him out of the return leg. Senegal will play that in Morocco, since they are still under a ban following the crowd riots during last year's Nations' Cup qualifiers.

And then there was the controversial penalty of the first round of CAF playoffs. Burkina Faso were awarded a spot kick that allowed them to escape with a 3-2 home win after they had the lead eroded twice by a determined Algerian outfit. Essaid Belkalem was the man penalised for a handball, a seemingly harsh decision as he had his arms folded behind him and was struck while looking in the other direction. The Algerian players were up in arms with the decision, but Burkina Faso's Aristide Bance made up for an earlier penalty miss by finding the back of the net at the second time of asking.

Bance had an opportunity to score from the spot at the end of the first half when Jonathan Pitroipa was fouled, but his attempt was saved by Algeria goalkeeper Rais M'Bohli. Pitroipa gave the Burkinabe the lead, but the hosts squandered it through poor defending. Their backline and the goalkeeper appeared vulnerable throughout the encounter, and they will need to significantly tighten up if they are to hold on to their advantage in Blida.

The final match of the four, a 0-0 draw between Tunisia and Cameroon, could have been decided on a penalty, but it was not given. The ball nuzzled the arm of Sameh Debaly when the Tunisian defender fell in the area, but it went unnoticed and leaves the hosts with it all to do in the away leg in Yaounde. A nervy encounter saw both teams waste chances, the best of which may have been Cameroon's Pierre Webo'd midway through the second half.

After the ball was put into his path by Moez Ben Cherifa, Webo simply needed to head it in but tried to chest it instead and sent it wide. It was not quite the showing Samuel Eto'o would have wanted on his return to the game, but he will have the chance to change that when the two teams meet next month.

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