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When perennial giants become falling comets

16th October 2011
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Eight teams which were in the last Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Angola have failed to make it through this time, for one reason or another.

Surprisingly enough, regular African soccer giant nations have failed to qualify, making them become falling comets, signaling their decline from the height of fame.

Some of the teams which used to be regarded as pushovers are the ones which have rose to the occasion and now set for the continental biggest soccer event.

Ghana’s Black Stars, Ivory Coast and Senegal are among the few powerhouses which soccer fans will be watching in the finals to be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea from January 21 to February 12, 2012.

Performance of the erstwhile minnows indicates that soccer has improved and changed, to the extent that there were hardly novices in soccer any longer.

Teams which felt the pain in their last group matches are last hosts of the Fifa World Cup - South Africa’s Bafana Bafana and Uganda Cranes which needed any margin of victroy to qualify but found themselves out after fetching draws.

The Cranes needed to beat old rivals Harambee Stars on home soil at the Nelson Mandela Stadium (Namboole) to book a place in the finals. Still their goalless draw with their neighbours paved the way for Angola who hit Guinea Bissau 2-0 that evening to book their short flight as well.

Hopes of Bafana Bafana to qualify were dashed after being held to a barren draw at home by Sierra Leone, perhaps the strangest result that evening.

In a stadium where Bafana Bafana had outclassed France last year, they whimpered at the hands of little known Sierra Leoneans. That brought the winner of the group to be decided on the CAF rule after the three teams had tied on points.

CAF’s Article 14.1 states that when teams tie on points in group qualifying matches, a rule of ‘head to head’ among the concerned teams applies.

Head to head means that when two or more teams tie, they consider which team registered better results when the teams in contention for the place played each other.

In this case, Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone tied on nine points each. But the CAF rule threw out Bafana Bafana on the merit that Niger beat South Africa 2-1 when they met on September 4, showing the team had weakened and the others were more solid.

The South African soccer body, SAFA, later appealed to CAF complaining about the rule, but at long last they abided by the regulations which they deemed not conversant with.

In fact, SAFA were not even supposed to appeal because we expected them to be knowing soccer rules than any other African country, putting in mind that they hosted the World Cup finals just last year.

Three times champions Egypt’s Pharaohs did not qualify because of the war. I would imagine they failed to do so because of unrest following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, with whom head coach Hassan Shehata was closely affiliated. Even the local league was disrupted, but the key issue was confidence.

In Libya by contrast the team remained composed because it had no diehard Gaddafi loyalists in charge of the team.

Again it is possible they may have needed fresh blood in the team, and there was no time to scout around and build new confidences.

This is the first time Nigeria is missing the finals after 25 years of Afcon. There are also Cameroon and Algeria, among the top national sides which will surprisingly be missing at the 2012 finals.

The failure of the powerhouse teams resulted from poor performance of their foreign-based players who often do not deliver when they play for their national sides.

More kudos should go to Botswana and Libya. Botswana was the first team to qualify for the championship, and their good performance was a product of youth development as most players who were in the team were groomed from the country’s recent Under-17 national side.

Libya made wonders because they played three home matches outside Libya because of the war but they made it.

Zambia has qualified but has sacked coach Dario Bonetti who made them reach there. It is normally out of place to sack a coach who makes the team succeed.

The qualification of Morocco, in the same group with Taifa Stars, did not come as luck but effort. Their national soccer body did the spade work by focusing on the country having talented youthful players in foreign clubs.

Fred Ogot is the Sports Editor of

The Guardian on Sunday

fred.ogot@yahoo.com

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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