Nigeria flex, Ghana falter on road to London

Former Olympic gold medalists Nigeria began the long qualifying road to the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament at the London 2012 Games in fine style with a five-goal romp at the weekend, but other former medalists Cameroon and Ghana are in danger of early elimination.

Africa’s path to the tournament began with 15 first round, first-leg ties across the continent, and there was nothing to suggest this campaign will stick to the form book. Ghana, who were the first African country to win a football medal with bronze in Barcelona in 1992, lost at home to Sudan, while 2000 gold medalists Cameroon scored a narrow 2-1 home win over Tanzania and could go out in they lose just 1-0 in the return leg in a fortnight.

Five stars for loaded Nigerian side
Nosa Igiebor scored twice and Nigeria could afford to squander a second-half penalty as they beat Equatorial Guinea 5-0 in Benin City. Odion Jude Ighalo opened the scoring followed by Haruna Lukman, who has already played for Nigeria at full international level, and then the double from Igiebor. The last goal was netted by Ekigho Ehiosun, another player in the powerful Nigerian side with a senior cap.

Sudan scored three minutes into stoppage time at the end of their match in Accra with Martin Khamis finishing a run from El Nour Osman Ahmed for a deserved winner. Both sides squandered chances, but Ghana’s Black Meteors will need a miraculous recovery away to stand any chance of progress.

It puts us at a big disadvantage. We fluffed it because it is now going to be difficult for us in the return match.
South Africa coach Ephraim Mashaba on Libya's two late goals

Cameroon’s U-23 side could have been 2-0 up inside the final quarter-hour in Yaounde against Tanzania. Mark Pangwoh scored, but then Parfait Essengue had a penalty saved by Tanzania goalkeeper Shaban Hassan. Thomas Ulimwengu equalised in the 40th minute before Hassan turned from hero to villain as he completely missed a back pass and Pangwoh gleefully accepted the invitation to net the winner.

South Africa also displayed defensive frailties as they exploded into a 4-0 lead against Libya in Benoni but then let in two late goals, one of them an own goal, giving Libya a lifeline for the return leg. “This is not a good scenario for us,” said South Africa coach Ephraim Mashaba after the game, “It puts us at a big disadvantage. We fluffed it because it is now going to be difficult for us in the return match.”

Convincing wins for Ivorians, Algerians
Côte d’Ivoire had little trouble with neighbours Liberia even though they had to move the match to neutral Accra. Serge Deble opened the scoring after 15 minutes and it was a routine triumph that followed with three more goals to come - from Yacoub Meite in the 29th minute, and Deble and Lacina Traore after the hour mark. Liberia had gone into the game just days after squad member Patrick Doeplah died in his sleep a day after returning from Israel to play in the match.

Algeria posted a convincing 3-0 scoreline at home in Algiers against Madagascar with Greek-based striker Mohamed Chalali scoring twice and setting up the third for Oussama Mesfar. The Democratic Republic of Congo won away in Burkina Faso in a rare outing for them at junior level, with Bamato Botayi scoring the winner in a 2-1 triumph, while Mozambique got an excellent goalless draw against Morocco, whose side were headed by Pim Verbeek, who took Australia to last year’s FIFA World Cup™ finals.