South African football journalist Wright Mbongo previews the looming African World Cup second-leg playoffs and admits some big names are facing heartbreak.
While the first legs have been contested, the second legs of the 2014 African World Cup play-offs will be completed on the weekend of 16-19 November with five fixtures on the menu. The African nations are only guaranteed five spots in the 32 nation tournament.
Out of ten nations that topped their respective groups in the last stage, only five will advance to the World Cup in Brazil next year while the other five will set their targets for the next edition of the African Cup of Nations, which will be held in Morocco early in 2015.
Taking a look at the five fixtures now on the horizon, it’s going to be an exciting - and nervous - week ahead across Africa. Along with reviewing the first-leg of each playoff, I’ll also offer my predictions for the final showdown:
EGYPT v GHANA
This was one of the highest scoring matches in African football as Ghana thrashed the Egyptians 6-1 in Kumasi. The away loss for the Pharaohs dented their hopes of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990 as the feat to overturn a 6-1 deficit looks impossible for a country that does not have league football at their disposal.
Ghana will cruise to the World Cup finals for the third time in a row, from 2006 to 2010, where they became a surprise package and finished in the quarter-finals.
CAMEROON v TUNISIA
The Cameroonians are favourites in this fixture after holding the Tunisians to a goalless draw inside an almost sold out Stade Olympique Rades in the capital of Tunisia. But the Indomitable Lions will have to be alert at home not to concede a goal that will give the Tunisians an advantage.
The Eagles of Carthage are coached by Dutch tactician Ruud Krol who is currently acting as an interim and I see him reaching the first World Cup finals as a coach after leading the Netherlands to the runner-ups spot in 1974 and 1978 as skipper. The Cameroonians are just not ready for a big tournament after failing to reach the African Cup of Nations in their last two attempts and the Tunisians can get back in the mix after missing out on the 2010 edition on African soil.
SENEGAL v IVORY COAST
The Senegalese are not surely out after going down 3-1 in Abidjan. The Ivorians looked to have won by three clear goals but a last minute strike by Newcastle United star Papiss Cisse gave the Lions of Teranga some hope going back home as a 2-0 win will see them reach their first World Cup finals since 2002 in Korea/Japan.
BURKINA FASO v ALGERIA
The first leg of this tie was one of the most exciting encounters in African football history with the match played on a hot sunny afternoon in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The Algerians, who made a surprising appearance in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, looked to have snatched a draw with two away goals but the referee of the day awarded a late penalty to raise the hopes of the Stallions.
A 3-2 win in the first leg will favour Algeria, who are going to play in their backyard boosted by away goals, but Burkina Faso can achieve glory if they repeat the performance that led them to the 2013 African Cup of Nations finals. The second-leg will see them being boosted by the return of Abdou Traore, who missed out in the first leg due to an injury setback.
NIGERIA v ETHIOPIA
The Nigerians managed to win away from home 2-1 in the first leg.
The African champions will be too difficult to contain for the Walias in Nigeria, as Stepen Kheshi has selected a squad that includes Victor Moses and first leg hero Emmanuel Eminike, who plays his club football for Turkish giants Fenerbache.