With the ultimate prize an African championship and a place at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 in Brazil, there was plenty at stake on Wednesday for the 26 teams that began qualifying for next year's CAF Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. In the first leg of a home-and-away tie, former winners Nigeria and Cameroon were both in action after failing to qualify for the 2012 finals, which were co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in January and February. The Super Eagles were held to a goalless draw in Rwanda, while the Indomitable Lions needed an injury-time goal to win 1-0 in Guinea-Bissau as the continent continued to deal out surprises.
The big match
Rwanda 0-0 Nigeria - Stade Regionale de Nyamirambo, Kigali
Former Nigeria international Stephen Keshi was in charge of the Super Eagles for the first time in a competitive match. He gave several locally-based players a chance, as well as former England youth international Victor Moses, who came on as a second-half substitute and thereby committed himself to the country of his birth. Even with the introduction of the impressive Moses, the west African giants struggled to find a way through a compact Wasps’ defence. Aiyegbeni Yakubu had the ball in the back of the net in the second half, but it was ruled offside, while Dady Birori came close for the home team. Afterwards, Keshi said he could “take consolation from the fact that we did not lose this game,” adding that his side were “lucky” to do so.
Ethiopia, who are looking for a first appearance at the finals since 1982, will have their work cut out for them in the return leg after also being held to a goalless draw at home by Benin. Another tie that remains evenly poised is between Tanzania and Mozambique after the two sides played to a 1-1 draw in Dar es Salaam. Cleusio Bauque opened the scoring for the team from southern Africa, but Mwinyi Kazimoto levelled matters for the home side in the first half, giving the Taifa Stars' Danish coach Jan Poulsen hope for the return leg in Maputo. "We were the better team in the second half, and when we walk on the pitch in Maputo we can win the match," he said after the contest.
Cape Verde and the DR Congo secured the biggest victories on the night as they beat Madagascar and Seychelles 4-0 respectively away from home to secure a comfortable cushion ahead of their home matches. Alain Kaluyituka scored twice for the Leopards, with Tresor Mputu and Jeremie Basilua adding the others. In Bujumbura, Gent defender Valery Nahayo was an unlikely hero for Burundi as he scored the winner five minutes into injury time in a 2-1 win against Zimbabwe. Mavugo Lody gave the home side the lead, which Knowledge Musona had equalised before the dramatic ending.
Gambia gave away the lead from Modou Ceesay's first-half goal in three minutes after the break as Anthar Yahiah and Sofiane Feghouli handed South Africa 2010 finalists Algeria a 2-1 victory in Banjul. Swedish first division striker Dioh Williams was the hero as Liberia secured a promising 1-0 victory at home against Namibia, while Kenya also buoyed home spirits by beating Togo 2-1 in Nairobi with Allan Wanga the match-winner. In N'Djamena, fans were treated to a pulsating match that ended up 3-2 as Leger Djime scored twice for Chad, with Labbo Mahamat adding another. South Africa-based Atusaye Nyondo got two for Malawi to keep the Flames in the tie.
Ugandan goalkeeper Dennis Onyango injured himself taking a goal kick and had to be substituted with the score 1-1 against Congo. Reserve keeper Abbey Dhaira went on to concede two late goals and Tony Mawejje was sent off late as the Cranes slumped to a 3-1 defeat. Teenager Jair Nunes scored from the penalty spot for the second time in three qualifiers as surprising Sao Tome and Principe beat Sierra Leone 2-1 with a late winner.
Player of the day
After disappointingly not making the last African finals, there was much pressure on Cameroon coach Denis Lavagne to deliver the goods, but after 90 minutes of their match against Guinea-Bissau the score was still goalless. German-born midfielder Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who played for Cameroon at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, then found a late winner for the Indomitable Lions, to give them the 1-0 advantage ahead of the return leg.
16 – the number of teams that have not yet been involved in the qualifying campaign. The finalists from the recently completed 2012 Africa Cup of Nations will join the 14 first round winners in the second round, and 15 two-legged play-off ties will decide which teams join hosts South Africa at the finals.
What they said…
“This team is improving with every match they play. They are doing well tactically and quality-wise, and they are fantastic to watch. Beating a team of Togo’s magnitude is not a mean achievement,” Kenya coach Francis Kimanzi.
The teams now have until 15 June to prepare for the return leg. The first-leg tie between Egypt and Central African Republic was postponed and will be played on 15 June, with the second leg on 24 June.