Race for WC in Africa narrows down to eleven
Accra, Sept. 7, GNA - As the countdown to the qualifiers of the 2006 World Cup in Germany draws to a close, there are now 11 African countries who will be chasing the five slots earmarked for the continent with the final round matches slated for next month. Togo and Senegal (Group 1), Ghana and Democratic Republic of Congo (Group 2), Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire (Group 3), Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe (Group 4) and Tunisia and Morocco (Group 5) are the contenders
The good news is that of the five places, West African countries can confidently take a greater chunk of the slots allotted to the continent.
Countries like Ghana have already started the jubilation after ensuring a 2-0 win over the Cranes of Uganda as they shot into the lead of Group Two and for once, the West African country have reason to bury their differences in anticipation of a first time appearance at the World Cup. Information gathered by the GNA Sports indicates that all stakeholders of the country are united in their resolve to ensure that the Black Stars have a safe berth in Germany and the die hard supporters are said to have ordered palm wine and other alcoholic beverages to commence the celebrations, while officials of the team are said to have ordered German language books that would make them feel at home for the one month soccer fiesta.
Ghana's Black Stars are virtually in Germany with a three-point lead over DR Congo as well as a superior goal difference (plus nine against plus four) Consequently, win or a narrow loss away against Cape Verde in October, the four time African champions will make their first appearance in a FIFA World Cup competition and the result in the crunch match between DR Congo and South Africa in Johannesburg could only thwart the chances of the Ghanaians if DR Congo win by an unimaginable massive margin.
And with the South Africans keen on picking one of the three slots from the group for the African Cup of Nations scheduled for Egypt in the first quarter of the next year, the Congolese will be in a crunch match indeed.
Other countries such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Senegal are expected to recall the heroics of Liverpool who went ahead to become European champions after trailing by three goals at half time, by enacting what made the British Reds tick at the last demanding half hour.
Ghana's West African neighbours, Togo need only a draw in Congo Brazzaville to complete a football fairy-tail but an unfortunate loss would open the door for the 2002 'giant killers' Senegal, provided they also manage to overcome Mali at their home ground. A home victory for Cameroon over Egypt will assure Samuel Eto' and his colleagues of a record fifth consecutive World Cup appearance by an African country, but any failure of securing the maximum points would make Cote d'Ivoire move up if the "Elephants' triumph away against Sudan.
The North African giants, Tunisia will have a trump card if they manage to subdue Morocco at home. The Moroccans are said to be the only unbeaten side in Africa in the series and may want to finish the ten-match programme without a defeat, but are unlikely to qualify for the World Cup as Tunisia are impregnable at home.
Group 4 made up of Angola, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Algeria and Rwanda is the most complicated with the bottom-of the-table Rwanda set to play a crucial role, as they host Angola in Kigali, while Nigeria welcome Zimbabwe in the eastern city of Port Harcourt.
In case Rwanda lose their match, Angola would qualify as they have a superior head-to-head record against the Super Eagles of Nigeria, whereas in case the 'Black Antelopes' fail to secure the maximum points, the 'Super Eagles' can go ahead to top the pool by defeating Zimbabwe. However in case Angola lose and Zimbabwe defeat Nigeria by at least four goals, then the "Warriors' from Southern Africa will tie their rivals on points, but finish first due to their superior head-to-head record.
The qualifiers also double as eliminators for the 2006 African Nations Cup to be hosted by Egypt.
Togo, Senegal, Zambia in Group 1, Ghana (Group 2, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire and automatic qualifiers, Egypt, Libya (Group 3), Angola Nigeria, Zimbabwe (Group 4) and Tunisia, Morocco, Guinea (Group 5) have all secured 14 of the 16 slots for the continental fiesta. This therefore leaves Dr Congo, South Africa and Burkina Faso slugging it out for the other two Group Two places in the biennial tournament that was won by hosts Tunisia last year for the first time in their soccer history.
A drawn match between South Africa and DR Congo would automatically make them clinch their invitations to Cairo, however, a defeat by either would lead to their elimination in case Burkina Faso end their poor away run to triumph in Uganda.
The 'Bafana Bafana' of South Africa's failure to ensure victory would obviously confirm their decline after they finished first, second and third in consecutive tournaments from 1996 when they fell to minnows Mali in the 2002 quarter-finals and were thus eliminated after the first round of last year's soccer fiesta on the African continent.
To all intents and purposes, Ghana's Black Stars need to put their acts together before and during the German debacle to ensure that they make a mark at the World Cup and this calls for concerted effort by all well-meaning Ghanaians, the media, government and all stakeholders to keep the light burning and to ensure that the passion of the nation is kept afloat.
The players and technical team need all the prayers and support needed for such an important event that offers the forum, not only for individual talents but for the collective efforts of countries to exhibit their brand of football and this, Insha Allah, the Black Stars would endeavour to achieve for the country on her maiden appearance at the World Cup.