Nations Cup roars on
Bafana Bafana continued to struggle to get back on the path that took them to greatness exactly 10 years ago when they became only the second Southern African side to win the Nations Cup finals.
Zambia’s resurgence continued as Chipolopolo powered to an impressive 2-0 win in Chad that torched riots in the capital N’djamena shortly after the match.
Predictably the small boys again found the going tough with Lesotho, Swaziland and the Seychelles all losing on the opening weekend.
Malawi’s Flames ‘ in turmoil after losing in the Cosafa Castle Cup amid calls for German coach Burkhard Ziese to be fired ‘ did well despite eventually losing 0-2 to giants Morocco in Casablanca.
But the spotlight was clearly on the Zebras of Botswana.
They went into the opening round of matches with a growing pedigree after qualifying for their first Cosafa Castle Cup semi-final where they narrowly lost to Zambia in Lusaka.
Even the experts appeared to agree that Botswana were on the verge of making a huge impact.
Peter Goldstein ‘ the respected columnist for Planet Football ‘ seemed to believe in the Zebras, too.
“Botswana, a long-time doormat, took a step up in class during the 2006 World Cup African Nations Cup qualifiers, making the group stage for the first time, picking up wins over Malawi and Kenya, and scaring big names like Tunisia and Morocco at home,” wrote Goldstein in his special preview.
“The big question is whether the Zebras can keep it going now that coach Veselin Jelusic has moved to the youth teams.”
And this is what Goldstein thought about Mauritania.
“When Mauritania surprised Zimbabwe 2-1 in the second leg of their World Cup qualifier on November 14, 2003, it was their first win in eight years.
“They haven’t played since. Frenchman No’l Tosi, the architect of the famous victory, now coaches Congo-Brazzaville.
“The top club sides had to withdraw from the 2006 continental championships due to lack of funds. Don’t expect much.”
Well, the scoreline from Nouakchott last weekend was a shocker.
Mauritius 4, Botswana 0.
That was quite a beating for the Zebras and whether they can rise from that morale-shattering defeat remains to be seen.
Neighbours Namibia fared better and have reason to believe that they could turn their campaign around.
They even took the lead ‘ at 2-1 ‘ midway in the second half of their tough away assignment against the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa.
But the experienced Congolese came back and struck twice to win the match 3-2.
On a good weekend for some of the minnows, little Mauritius emerged as the pick of the crop by holding former African champions Tunisia to a goalless draw in Curepipe.
It was the Indian Ocean islanders’ best result in their campaign in international football.
Goalkeeper Orwin Castel was the hero at the New George V Stadium in Curepipe as he played a blinder in helping his side restrict Tunisia.
He even saved a first-half penalty from Hamed Namouchi.
It could even have been better for Mauritius as they were presented with a golden chance to win the match in the 67th minute but Giovanni Jeannot’s header just missed the target.
Among those who praised the home nation for its gusty show was Tunisian coach Roger Lemerre.
“Mauritius showed that football is played with intelligence. I am happy that we grabbed a point,” he told reporters.
Sarjoo Gowreesungkur ‘ the Mauritius coach in charge of his first match ‘ said the result was a massive boost for football on the island.
“This draw is a victory for us as it is not against any team but Tunisia.
“We had only three weeks to prepare for the game as the league had not yet started and we had to depend on our foreign-based players.
“I am confident that this result will give our football a needed boost.”
Of course, it certainly will.
For Mauritius can now fancy their chances of even going top of the group during the next round of matches.
Tunisia will host Sudan in their next qualifier while Mauritius will travel to neighbours Seychelles fancying their chances of victory which could take them top of the table.
The Seychelles were beaten 0-3 by Sudan.
Another Indian Ocean island ‘ Madagascar ‘ also lost on the opening weekend of the Nations Cup qualifiers after going down 0-4 in Gabon.
Striker Henri Antchouet opened the scoring five minutes before the interval and Daniel Cousin added his second as he continued his rehabilitation in the national team after almost six years on the sidelines.
Cousin stayed away from the national team for almost half-a-dozen years because he was unhappy with the chaos in the national football association.
Midfielder Shiva Nzigou then struck twice as Gabon cruised to an ultimately comfortable victory.
The Gabonese are now under the guidance of former French midfield star Alain Girese.
Malawi went to Morocco still haunted by their previous two visits to that part of the continent which saw them lose 0-4 in Rabat and 0-7 in Tunisia.
There were fears that a Flames team in turmoil with unrest in their camp, which even led captain Peter Mponda to ask for the team to withdraw from the qualifiers, would be torn apart in Morocco.
But to their credit the Flames battled courageously after a training stint in Denmark.
Their spirited defensive display meant that the game was goalless at half-time.
But you can only defend so far.
And in the second half Marouane Chamakh fired Morocco into the lead just five minutes into the second episode after great work from Boukhari.
And a second goal from Mbarek Boussoufa in the 72nd minute killed the match as a contest.
Malawi’s next game is against Zimbabwe in Blantyre next month.
The Warriors were inactive at the weekend as this is a three-team group.
Angola opened their campaign with a solid 2-0 win over Swaziland in Mbabane.
The Negras Palancas continued with the majority of the players who represented them at their maiden World Cup finals and went
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ahead in the 21st minute through Joao Jamba.
But there was some luck to that breakthrough.
Jamba’s shot appeared going off target until it took a wicked deflection off unlucky Swazi defender Sipho Gumbi before hitting the target.
Ten minutes from time it was all over for Angola who left out World Cup captain Fabrice “Akwa” Maieco and veteran goalkeeper Ricardo.
The Negras Palancas used strikers Flavio and Mantorras who were both guilty of a number of wasted chances.
While Akwa was missing in action, the game marked the return of defender Yamba Asha who missed both the World Cup and the Nations Cup after being slapped with a nine-month ban for using drugs by Fifa.
South Africa have been under pressure to show some form after their disastrous campaign at the 2006 Nations Cup finals where they were eliminated without a win nor a goal.
The pressure has emanated from the fact that the South Africans would be hosting the 2010 World Cup finals and Fifa would like them to do well to keep local interest in the competition.
But, with new Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Perreira watching in the stands, Bafana Bafana again struggled to impress as they limped to a goalless draw with Congo in Johannesburg.
Even the fans stayed away as just 6000 people cared to come to a venue that can take in 80 000 fans.
Without Benni McCarthy leading their attack, Bafana Bafana clearly struggled to make an impact and their best chance fell to Player of the Year Surprise Moriri in the first half.
The Sundowns midfielder met a pass from Bradley Carnell but hoisted his effort just over the bar.
South Africa caretaker coach Pitso Mosimane said his team “played well” but just could not convert the chances that they created.
Mosimane will pave way for Parreira when he joins with the team in February next year.
The Brazilian, who will be paid a massive R1.8 million a month, was optimistic that he will turn around Bafana’s fortunes.
Little Lesotho found the going tough as they plunged to a 0-3 defeat at the hands of Uganda in Kampala.
Geoffrey Massa, who is based in Egypt, turned on a man-of-the-match display as he scored twice and won the penalty that gave the Cranes a fine win.
Massa scored the first in the 29th minute and then made it 2-0 three minutes from the break.
Shortly after the break he won a penalty and could have gone for the glory of a hattrick but he opted out of responsibility and Dennis Obua converted easily.
Mozambique lost 0-2 to Senegal.
Results at a glance
Mauritius 0-0 Tunisia
Sudan 3-0 Seychelles
Equatorial Guinea 2-1 Liberia
Rwanda 0-3 Cameroon
Swaziland 0-2 Angola
Gambia 2-0 Cape Verde Islands
Guinea 0-0 Algeria
Togo 2-1 Benin
Sierra Leone 0-0 Mali
DR Congo 3-2 Namibia
Ethiopia 1-0 Libya
Chad 0-2 Zambia
Gabon 4-0 Madagascar
Egypt 4-1 Burundi
Mauritania 4-0 Botswana
Nigeria 2-0 Niger
Uganda 3-0 Lesotho
Kenya 1-2 Eritrea
Senegal 2-0 Mozambique
Tanzania 2-1 Burkina Faso
South Africa 0-0 Congo
Morocco 2-0 Malawi