Those lucky enough to have seen Cameroon beat Nigeria in the final of the African qualification tournament for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 are unlikely to forget the celebrations any time soon. Despite having appeared so calm and discreet throughout the competition, the Indomitable Lions roared long past the final whistle in Durban.
The scenes of joy were fully merited too. After all, not content with having booked their place at the global showcase in November, the side led by celebrated former goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell made it their mission to come away from South Africa with the continental title. "As we had predicted, it turned out to be a very physical match but our qualification gave us a little bit more confidence," explained the coach. "Our goal now is to use that performance to make even more progress in the next few weeks before we leave for Rio."
His team put in excellent displays in order to finish on top of the pile, but they could easily have fallen at the first hurdle as well. Beaten on penalties by Côte d'Ivoire, the champions-in-waiting ultimately required a slender 4-3 triumph over Egypt in the semi-finals to stamp their ticket to Brazil.
Disappointment for Elephants and hosts
Due to join them there later this year, the Super Eagles of Nigeria also flirted with disaster on their way to sealing passage. In their case, a loss on penalties to Egypt almost derailed their bid before victory over the courageous Ivorians - also following a shoot-out - made qualification official.
For the Ivorian Elephants, on the other hand, the only consolation was the emergence of talented young star Frédéric Aka, who was voted Player of the Tournament. "I really think we had the best team, but that's sport for you," lamented Aka's team-mate Nea Beugre after their semi-final elimination. "We lost concentration at crucial moments and that cost us our place in Rio." His disappointment was also shared by Egypt and South Africa.
Sending a very young team, the hosts represented the continent with distinction last year and have gone to considerable lengths to improve since then, not least by appointing Brazilian coach Marcelo Mendez. Those efforts looked to be in vain, though, as Bafana Bafana were forced to settle for an unflattering fifth-place finish. However, they can at least content themselves with faring better than Morocco, who went home empty-handed with three defeats in three outings.
So it will be up to Cameroon and Nigeria to defend Africa's honour at the upcoming FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006, due to take place between 2 and 12 November this year. In Group C, the Indomitable Lions will have their eyes on taking second place behind Portugal, but must be wary of section rivals Uruguay and the Solomon Islands. Meanwhile, the Super Eagles will be looking to exploit the element of surprise against Italy, Bahrain and Argentina in Group D. All in all, there promises to be some very passionate encounters, which you can follow exclusively on FIFA.com.
Cameroon 5 : 3 Nigeria
Egypt 8 : 3 Côte d'Ivoire
South Africa 5 : 4 Morocco
* Qualified for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2006.
Best player: Frédéric Aka (CIV)
Best goalkeeper: Pascal Mbeyo (CMR)
Top scorers: Mark Williams (RSA) and Iloabuchi Gabriel Agu (NGA) - 9 goals