Ethiopia joins Nigeria, Senegal in playoffs for World Cup berth
Nigeria, Senegal and surprise package Ethiopia reached the final playoffs for the World Cup after winning last-round group games on Saturday. Tunisia crashed out and will miss Brazil 2014 after being shocked at home by Cape Verde Islands.
The North Africans saw their World Cup dream disappear at the very end of the main qualifying competition with a painful 2-0 loss in Rades, and the Cape Verdeans continued their breakthrough year after playing in their first African Cup at the start of 2013.
Burkina Faso also kept its hopes of playing in Brazil alive by beating Gabon and overtaking Republic of Congo late in the race to make the decisive 10-team ties starting next month. Five teams will eventually emerge from those playoffs in October and November to represent Africa at world football's showpiece.
The five countries that qualified Saturday joined top-ranked African team Ivory Coast, Egypt and Algeria, who had already won their groups, and Ghana, which progressed on Friday. Cameroon and Libya face off in a last winner-take-all game in Yaounde on Sunday for the final playoff spot.
African champion Nigeria saw off Malawi 2-0 in Calabar through goals early in the second half from Europe-based forwards Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses, ending a tense standoff between the countries in the leadup to the game. Malawi coach Tom Saintfiet reported Nigeria rival Stephen Keshi to FIFA over alleged racist comments ahead of their matchup to decide Group F.
Ethiopia came from behind with two second-half goals to win 2-1 over Central African Republic in neutral Republic of Congo to qualify from Group A, eliminating 2010 World Cup host South Africa, which beat Botswana 4-1 in vain. Ethiopia's winner came, ironically, from Minyahile Beyene, the player whose presence in an earlier qualifier while suspended led to Ethiopia forfeiting a game and having its progression put on hold.
The victory in Brazzaville sparked wild celebrations back home in Ethiopia, which has never played at the World Cup despite being one of the founding members of African football. The football-mad East African nation is now one tie away from the biggest stage, while the last World Cup host is out.
"If I take a step backwards, I don't think anybody is to blame for us not qualifying,'' South Africa coach Gordon Igesund said.
Tunisia led Group B and was overwhelming favorite to qualify, needing just a draw at home to Cape Verde. But the islanders scored twice in the first half and the Tunisians couldn't come back, resulting in coach Nabil Maaloul saying he would resign after his team was booed by its own fans for the final 10 minutes.
"We were out of it,'' a dejected Maaloul said. "The players weren't able to respond to the Cape Verde team, which was better than us. This was my final game as national coach.''
Senegal did avoid a surprise loss to Uganda in neutral Marrakech to qualify, and clinched a 1-0 victory late on with Sadio Mane's 84th-minute winner.
Like Cape Verde, African Cup runner-up Burkina Faso leapfrogged Republic of Congo with a precious Prejuce Nakoulma strike to beat Gabon 1-0. Republic of Congo's 2-2 draw with Niger in Niamey proved costly as it surrendered the lead and qualifying position from Group E by a single point to the Burkinabes, who now have a chance at the World Cup, continuing a memorable year after they surprisingly made the African Cup final in February.
Ivory Coast had already made it to the playoffs before a 1-1 draw with Morocco in Abidjan, where Didier Drogba hit an 83rd-minute penalty to scrape a draw for the Ivorians. Ghana qualified on Friday by edging out Zambia, while Egypt and Algeria also are already through before their final group games Tuesday.
Sierra Leone beat Equatorial Guinea 3-2, Gambia beat Tanzania 2-0 and Angola won 4-1 over Liberia in other games Saturday that had no effect on Africa's decisive playoffs.
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