Bleak Year for Southern Africa


Harare ‑ A gloomy and barren year for Southern African football came to a fitting close in Lubumbashi on Saturday as TP Mazembe’s attempts to win the CAF Confederation Cup were blown away by Tunisian giants CS Sfaxien who won the trophy for an unprecedented third time.

A year that started with Zambia, then the Nations Cup holders, suffering the humiliation of being knocked out, in the group stages of the 2013 Nations Cup, hosts South Africa bowing out in the quarter-finals and West Africans taking all four semi-final places, will come to an end with Southern Africa licking its wounds after a miserable season on all fronts.

There will not be a team from this part of the continent, at the 2014 World Cup finals, after the dreams of millions of Southern African football fans, to cheer their countries in Brazil, were crushed by a West African Armada that took four of the five slots that were on offer.

Angola were the last Southern African country to qualify for the World Cup when they played at the 2006 edition of the tournament, in Germany, having beaten heavyweights Nigeria into second place during the qualifiers.

Although South Africa played at the 2010 World Cup finals, it was not by virtue of qualification, but as hosts of the tournament, they were guaranteed an automatic spot and became the first country host nation to fail to go beyond the first round in the history of the biggest football festival on the globe.

Bafana Bafana’s quest to play in Brazil was ended by Ethiopia, who qualified at the expense of the South Africans, the embarrassment completed by the fact that the East Africans still finished ahead of them despite having been docked three points after their away victory was nullified by FIFA because they had fielded an ineligible player.

Zambia’s battle to feature at their first World Cup show, which became their next priority after their remarkable triumph at the 2012 Nations Cup finals in Gabon, came to an end in Kumasi when they lost the winner-take-all showdown against the Black Stars of Ghana although pundits will point to four crucial dropped points, at home against Sudan and away in Lesotho, as the draws that destroyed their dreams.

Given that Chipolopolo had benefitted from the annulment of their loss in Sudan, who were punished by FIFA for using an ineligible player, some analysts will probably say the Zambians never deserved a ticket to Brazil.

Zimbabwe never competed, failing to win even a single game and finishing bottom of their group, in what was clearly the worst World Cup campaign for the Warriors in history.

Refreshingly, Orlando Pirates went all the way to the final of the CAF Champions League, as they battled to win the title for the second time, but the Soweto giants were beaten by experienced campaigners and holders Al Ahly of Egypt.

Wealthy Congolese side, TP Mazembe, who have converted themselves into a powerful force on the continent again and recently won the Champions League title twice, had a chance to ensure that it would not be all gloomy, in Southern Africa this year, by winning the CAF Confederation Cup.

A 0-2 defeat in the first leg in Tunisia put TP Mazembe on the back foot, ahead of the decisive second leg in Lubumbashi, but the Congolese giants were brimming with confidence given the way they have destroyed teams in their backyard in the past.

Club president, Moise Katumbi, one of the richest men in Africa, led the battle cry by posting a video message, on the club’s official website, rallying his men to rise and shine at home in Lubumbashi.

“We must have faith, we lost a battle not the war,” Katumbi said in his message.

“And we will play for the Cup to remain in Congo. To dedicate it to our brethren in the East, to the soldiers who fell at the war front and to the Head of State for maintaining of peace in our country.

“Two to zero, it is nothing at all … I have confidence in our team and our fans. I like this kind of situation because it is in the difficulty that we need to grow bigger.

“Even if I have receptions, I find the solution to remain in black/white until the match. The Cup will remain in Katanga.”

And it looked that way after half an hour when TP Mazembe raced to an early lead, after Cheibane Traore powered them ahead in the 10th minute, to halve the deficit before Mbwana Samatta levelled the aggregate scores by making it 2-2 in the 24th minute.

The home side appeared in control, and they created a host of chances that they didn’t take, and with just a minute remaining in regulation time, the contest seemed to be heading into extra-time.

But, in keeping up with the bleak season for Southern African football, something dramatic happened, in that last minute, which destroyed Mazembe’s hopes with Cheibane Traore, scoring the goal that gave Sfaxien their aggregate victory despite losing the second leg of that showdown 1-2.

This means that while West Africa dominated this year with Nigeria winning the Nations Cup in South Africa and four of its representatives – the Super Eagles, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Ghana – winning places at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil and North Africa provided the success stories in the CAF inter-club tournaments, with Al Ahly and Sfaxien winning the big tournaments, there was nothing for Southern Africa.

Zimbabwean football agent, George Deda said, “I think this shows, without a doubt, that African football is again being dominated by the usual suspects, the West and North Africans, and the success by Zambia in Gabon wasn’t really a shift in the balance of power but an isolated story.

“But you have to give credit to Pirates, for the way they fought in the Champions League this year, and their performance should be a lesson to the other teams like Dynamos (of Zimbabwe) that they can also stand toe-to-toe with these giants on the continent.”

December 2013
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