Is Southern Africa the worst football region?
Harare – There years ago, Southern Africa was in the global spotlight as the first Fifa World Cup final game, to be played on the continent, got underway at a packed and colourful Soccer City in Johannesburg.
In three months’ time, we are likely to get confirmation that no Southern African nation will be part of the global football festival when the 2014 Fifa World Cup gets underway at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil
And that will make us the weakest football region on the continent.
Southern Africa has been represented at each of the last four Fifa World Cup finals in 1998 in France (South Africa), 2002 in Japan/South Korea (South Africa), 2006 in Germany (Angola) and 2010 when South Africa made history by becoming the first African country to host the tournament.
But when Brazil gets the 2014 World Cup underway on home soil on June 12 next year, it’s very likely that there won’t be any representatives from this part of the continent after a qualifying campaign that went off the rails last weekend.
Bafana Bafana saw their dreams of reaching Brazil melt in altitude in Addis Ababa as Ethiopia, who are rising again as a football force on the continent, came back from a goal down to win the big match 2-1 and win their place in the final qualifying pool.
Gordon Igesund and his men went into the lion’s den, where the Ethiopians are unbeaten in their last 12 competitive matches, including eight wins, knowing they were up against an inspired opponent playing one of the biggest football games in its history.
Already two points adrift of their opponents, Bafana Bafana needed a win, to take matters into their hands ahead of the final qualifier in September, and Bernard Parker gave them hope with an angled shot, taken on the run, to silence the capacity crowd at the National Stadium in Addis Ababa.
Midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane had a perfect chance to double the lead, after finding acres of space through the heart of the Ethiopians’ defensive line, but with only the ‘keeper to beat, he slammed his shot close to the goal minder and a grand opportunity was lost.
But 21-year-old rising Ethiopian star, Getaneh Kebede, whose profile has risen so much that he is wanted by a number of European clubs, found the equaliser as he grabbed yet another important goal for his country.
Parker’s stunning own goal condemned Bafana Bafana to a 1-2 defeat and pushed them out of contention, for a place in Brazil, with the Ethiopians stretching their lead to five points with just one game still to play in September.
Fifa could open a window of hope for Bafana Bafana, if their investigation that Ethiopia used an ineligible player during their World Cup tie against Botswana in Lobatse, which they won 2-1, are proven.
Article 55 of the Fifa Disciplinary Code states that “if a player takes part in an ofﬁcial match despite being ineligible, his team will be sanctioned by forfeiting the match and paying a minimum ﬁne of 6,000 Swiss francs.”
But even if Ethiopia are stripped of the three points, and they are handed to Botswana, the point remains that they will still lead their group with two points, with a game to play, and all they will need against whipping boys Central African Republic is a point.
Ethiopian Football Federation president, Sehilu Gebremariam, told the BBC Newsday programme that he was still confident his side will progress to the final qualifying round.
“This is shocking news – but the point is that we are still leading the group, we believe that we shall still qualify for the next stage,” he said.
“We are scrutinising the situation and we will give information to Fifa and to the public.”
Igesund appeared resigned to defeat on Sunday and, rather than focus on the boardroom politics, he showered the Ethiopians with credit.
“I need to congratulate Ethiopia. It was a tough game today and the crowd was magnificent,” he told Fifa.com.
Interestingly, Ethiopia’s progress means that the East Africans, for long the weakest football region in Africa, now have a representative in the final qualifying round while Southern Africa has no one.
Former African champions, Zambia, carried the region’s brightest hopes of qualifying for Brazil, especially after their 0-2 defeat in Sudan was overturned, when the East Africans used an ineligible player and converted into three points for Chipolopolo.
They even beat Ghana’s Black Stars 1-0 at home to take control of the race but some recent poor results, and a late rally by the Ghanaians, has titled the pendulum in favour of the West Africans.
Zambia dropped two big points in Maseru, after being held to a surprise 1-1 draw by Lesotho and last weekend dropped another two big points at home, after being held to a draw by a Sudanese team still hurt by their points deduction.
Ghana, who beat Lesotho 2-0 in Maseru, now have a point advantage over the Zambians, with a home game against Chipolopolo on the way in September and they will have to lose that encounter, which looks highly improbable, for Zambia to advance.
Interestingly, the Zambians are yet to lose a match in their five qualifiers but their two draws might come back to haunt them in September.
“Today, we were not as efficient as we should be. We need to be consistent but we still believe in ourselves,” Chipolopolo coach, Herve Renard, told the Post newspaper after the 1-1 draw against Sudan last weekend.
“The best team will qualify to the play-offs. Today, we conceded a stupid corner and we made a mistake play-off. We failed and they scored.
“We may go to Ghana needed a draw or won and that can change the game plan.”
Lesotho are the other Southern African team in the group and have picked just two points, one against Zambia and the other against Sudan, but have leaked nine goals in two matches against Ghana.
Mozambique, also have two points and like Lesotho, they are also winless in five matches but they are a point better than Zimbabwe who are the only Southern African nation still stuck on one point.
Angola have also struggled, without a win in five games and were beaten 0-2 by Uganda last weekend while Namibia impressed a lot of neutrals with the way they battled their way to a 1-1 draw against African champions Nigeria in Windhoek last Wednesday.
Malawi are unbeaten in five qualifying matches but their problem is that they have won too fewer matches, with only one victory and four draws and now need to go and win in Nigeria in the final match to go through.
“It’s unlikely that we will have a representative in Brazil but you can’t fault the teams for trying and Bafana Bafana rebounded very well, from a very poor start and they had chances to win in Ethiopia,” Zimbabwe football agent, George Deda said.
“Zambia has the capacity to go to Ghana and win, the pressure will be on the West Africans and anything can happen while Malawi will have to move mountains in Nigeria to squeeze out that victory.
“I think you can say Zimbabwe’s campaign has been a disappointment.”