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World Cup qualifiers suffer at African championship
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 23 - 01 - 2010

The five leading cast members at the Africa Cup of Nations suffered varying degrees of stage fright during Act I of the competition.
Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and Algeria all eventually made it into the quarterfinals but each of the quintet experienced a World Cup reality check along the way. The first of the famous five to stumble was Ivory Coast, who almost came a cropper against Burkina Faso, Didier Drogba and his star-studded teammmates fortunate to escape with a goalless draw.
The Elephants stepped up a gear in their next run out, defeating Ghana 3-1 to become the first side into the last eight with coach Vahid Halilhodzic a relieved man.
“I told the boys that we had to choose a path between paradise and hell as a nation like the Ivory Coast would never forgive us if we lost,” he said.
Next of the South Africa-bound teams to join them in the second round were Algeria, who had looked down and out when suffering a 3-0 thrashing by minnows Malawi in their opener.
That triggered an onslaught of criticism from the Algerian media who held coach Rabah Saadane responsible for the wipe-out.
The Desert Foxes came back fighting with a 1-0 win over Mali and then ensured their last eight ticket with a 0-0 draw against host Angola. After the Mali victory Saadane said crisply: “This win has given the perfect answer to all our critics.”
Next into the quarterfinal mix was Ghana, who qualified with a tight 1-0 win over Burkina Faso.
The Black Stars, the first team from Africa to qualify for the World Cup, went into their must-win game missing a raft of star players, including Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien, who suffered a serious training injury 48 hours before kick-off.
Andre Ayew, son of one of Africa's most decorated players, Abedi ‘Pele' Ayew, was the hero of the hour, producing the decisive first half goal to bag them the runnerup spot behind Ivory Coast in Group B.
Ghana's Serb coach Milovan Rajevac said the injuries to key players like Essien were giving ‘Dede' and the other youngsters' the chance to shine.
Nigeria found themselves with their backs to the wall after an opening 3-1 defeat to champion Egypt. That led to an ultimatum to coach, Shuaibu Amodu - beat next-door neighbours Benin or else make way for assistant coach Daniel Amokachi.
The Super Eagles duly beat Benin 1-0 and qualified with a 3-0 victory over Mozambique.
Match winner Osaze Odenwingie, who scored twice, said: “I'm happy for the team. We had a lot of pressure on us, but since the start of the competition we have made daily progress, from the goalkeepers to the strikers.”
Amodu added: “My job is to do a good CAN - I can't avoid the critics. I'm happy that the boys were able to deliver the goods.”
And finally to Cameroon, who after its shock 1-0 opening loss to Gabon was four minutes away from getting knocked out only for substitute Mohamadou Idrissou to head home the 86th-minute winner for a 3-2 win over Zambia.
Samuel Eto'o and his men had to make another comeback for a 2-2 draw with Tunisia in Lubango Thursday to join their fellow World Cup contenders in the second round.
Coach Paul Le Guen said he had two objectives in Angola. “To get the best possible results in this Africa cup of Nations, and to prepare the squad for the World Cup. “It's hard going, but we've shown we can fight back even if we are letting in a lot of goals.
“I have had to take decisions (about team selection) which may appear tough but it allows me to prepare for the World Cup in the best fashion.”


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