The winners and losers from the big weekend
We’ve always known that the African section of world cup qualifying is one of the most competitive. Over the last three days we got further evidence of that with some cracking games and results that suggested nothing would be straight forward over the next year or so when the bid for places at Russia 2018 would be in full effect.
Ghana and Algeria could not make the most of home advantage despite formidable long standing home records. Nigeria and Cameroon were good value for vital away points, Egypt showed they would be involved in this all the way and Congo DR were superb.
Here is our wrap of the big winners and losers from the weekend.
The biggest winners must be the African football fan. Five groups of four teams each, massive games and we saw over the three days very little between all of them. The weekend provided the most ample evidence that no match day would be boring and that the race for the five places available for the continent would go all the way down to the last day. That for those engrossed in the sport can only be good news. No games like England-Malta for example.
Nigeria and Zambia sold a classic. Algeria and Cameroon went toe-to-toe in Algiers. It was like a semi final weekend of Nations Cup. And even those games that were supposedly going to be simple and straight forwarded were not.
Uganda were amazing defensively in Tamale, repelling everything that Ghana threw at them. It is the sort of performance that would ensure that sooner or later, their Serbian coach Milutin Sredojevic would be coaching one of Africa’s big boys.
He was also spot-on when he suggested the performance in Tamale was ample proof that their recent purple patch which culminated in a return to the Nations Cup after a 39-year absence was not a fluke.
Nigeria were great in Lusaka too. Their attacking duo of Alex Ewobi and Kelechi Iheanacho proved that while having players at the highest level does not always guarantee success it does provide big game winners with two well taken goals that broke Zambia’s spirit. Maybe in the end, failure to qualify for the 2017 Nations Cup would prove a blessing for the Super Eagles.
In Kinsasha, Congo DR were too good for Libya with Dieumerci Mbokani scoring two of those four goals. It would give them immense confidence going forward.
Ghana were facing a battle to convince many skeptics at home that they are good enough to reach another world cup and did very little to change that perception after the draw against Uganda. The Black Stars created chances and kept missing them. Ultimately they were not good enough. It represented two points dropped. And with Egypt winning away in Congo, the pressure on Avram Grant’s side to bounce back would be even more intense now.
Algeria may not have lost but they dropped two points too against Cameroon in potentially the tightest group of the competition. Now Nigeria would feel they have the initiative and Cameroon would be buoyed by that point in Algiers. Makes a fascinating group even more fantastic.
Major take-aways from the opening day
That the African section of the qualifiers would potentially go down to the last day. Already, match day one has provided us with the prospect of some terrific matches on Match Day Two.
Ghana faces Egypt in Cairo in a massive game. Algeria travel to face Nigeria and there is a potential thriller between Zambia and Cameroon. Elsewhere, South Africa host Senegal in another interesting game.
It is also clear that big individuals would be signficant for many countries. Nigeria needed the immense talent of Alexi Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho to beat Zambia, poaching two goals out of nothing. Dieurmeci delivered for Congo and Egypt had Mohammed Salah in great form for them too.
Ghana meanwhile struggled because its big name players like Asamoah Gyan and Mubarak Wakaso had off days. That has to change.
By Michael Oti Adjei|3news.com|Ghana