Africa’s Five FIFA 2022 World Cup Slots Have Been Secured
In a sometimes controversial final matchday of the African 2022 qualifiers competition, five nations finally secured their places at Qatar's upcoming World Cup tournament this winter after over two years of qualifiers.
The final ten teams from the CAF qualification process battled it out this March break to win just five spots at the World Cup. Nigeria and Ghana, Senegal and Egypt, Algeria and Cameroon, Morocco and Congo, Tunisia and Mali each played one another in a home and away two-legged tie. The final scores from each match were aggregated, and, in the event of a draw, the away-goals rule applied.
In the end, Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia were victorious and won their places in this year’s tournament.
The ‘away-goals’ rule states, “If both teams score the same number of goals over the two matches, the goals scored away shall be counted as double”.
Cameroon hosted Alergia for the first leg of their tie on March 25th. Algeria took the lead with a header from Islam Silmani in the 40th minute of the game. Despite dominating the ball and threatening the Algerian goal twice as often as The Greens took aim at theirs, the Cameroonians could not break through to convert their chances. The match ended with Cameroon facing an uphill battle in the second leg of their tie, away to Algeria.
The second match began well for The Indomitable Lions, who scored the opening goal in the 22nd minute of the game courtesy of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. The goal brought the aggregate score to 1-1. Algeria responded on the offensive, but they failed to finish for all the chances they created, taking the match into extra time. Alergia piled on the pressure during those additional thirty minutes and was finally rewarded with a goal from Ahmed Touba minutes before the final whistle blew. The players, team and fans all thought the game was won, that Algeria would be going to Qatar in November. However, Cameroon's Karl Toko Ekambi slotted in the actual winner just minutes later. Despite the aggregate score of 2-2, Cameroon won on the away-goals rule.
Ghana went head-to-head against Nigeria on the 25th. The first leg of the tie, after a tight game, ended goallessly. Both teams went into the second leg, fully aware that the match would be unforgiving.
On the day, an error by Nigerian goalkeeper Francis Uzoho in the 10th minute allowed Ghana's Thomas Partey to score the opening goal, which would prove crucial to winning the game. Nigeria, who dominated the match and were by far the more threatening of the two teams, managed to equalise in the 22nd with a penalty shot. Despite efforts to double their lead up to the interval, Nigeria's game fell relatively flat into the second half, and they failed to create many more chances. The match ended with an aggregate of 1-1, but Ghana, who scored away, won their place at the World Cup on away goals. As the final whistle blew, the arena descended into madness as the Nigerian supporters sought revenge on the Ghanaian spectators in the stadium.
Morocco played away to the Democratic Republic of Congo during the first leg of their tie. The Congolese opened the scoring with a goal from Yoane Wissa in the first twelve minutes of the game. They continued on the offensive, looking to extend their lead, but the chances they created came to nothing. The Moroccans finally pulled one back to equalise via Tarik Tissoudali in the 76th, ending the game 1-1.
The second leg of the tie began much more auspiciously for Morocco. Azzedine Ounahi kicked the scoring off in the 21st minute with a half volley from outside the area. The Moroccans doubled their lead before the end of stoppage time in the first half after Tissoudali ran onto a failed clearance to score. Less than 15 minutes into the second half, Morocco continued their goal-scoring streak with another shot to the back of the net from Ounahi. Then, in the 69th, Achraf Hakimi sent another home to seal the win. The Congolese's Ben Malango netted a consolation goal in the 77th, but it made no difference. Morocco sealed their spot at the 2022 World Cup with a 4-1 win.
Senegal's away match against Egypt did not go their way… The match's only goal was an own goal four minutes into the game. A shot from Mo Salah, which was deflected off of the crossbar, hit the knee of Senegalese defender Sailou Ciss and into the net. While both teams fought hard throughout the game to increase the scoreline, the number of opportunities they created were few and far between.
In a twist of fate, in the second leg of the tie, four minutes into the game, Senegal drew level with Egypt on aggregate after an own goal from Egyptian player Hamdi Fathi. Senegal's Boulaye Dias took a shot on goal, but the deflected ball hit Fathi and went over the line. Buoyed by the score, Senegal took control of the match and made at least twenty-five attempts on the Egyptian goal. Egypt's keeper Mohamed Al Shenawy was made to put in a shift to keep the scoreline at 1-0, especially in extra time when Senegal's attacks became more ferocious. With the aggregate score remaining 1-1 at the end of extra time, the game went to penalties. The first two shots for both teams, including efforts from Senegal's captain Kalidou Koulibaly and Egypt's Mo Salah, missed their mark. However, Sadio Mane slammed his shot to the back of the net to give Senegal the first penalty and the win as Egypt's next effort missed. Senegal took the game and the ticket to Qatar. However, many will be up in arms about the treatment of the Egyptian players. Senegalese fans reportedly shone laser lights into the eyes of the players as they lined up to take their penalties. It is unclear at this point whether the authorities will wade into the matter.
Tunisia visited Mali in their first leg match. They beat the Malians, who have yet to grace the World Cup stage, 1-0 after an own goal from Mali's Moussa Sissako. A back pass from Sissako surprised the team's keeper, who let the ball roll over the line.
The second leg of the tie was held in Tunisia. The Malians, determined to keep their World Cup dreams alive, dominated possession and worked hard to create chances. However, it was not to be; The Eagles could not break down the Tunisian defence. On the other hand, the Tunisians were happy to hold Mali off, knowing that their single goal from the first leg would secure their win. The match ended in a goalless draw, and Tunisia will now head to Qatar for the winter tournament.
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