West Africa continued their domination of the African beach soccer scene as Senegal and Côte d'Ivoire booked their tickets for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti later this year. The two secured their participation on the global stage by qualifying for the final of the CAF qualifying competition, which was held at El Jadida in Morocco over the past week.
There was disappointment though for north African teams as - even though they were represented in the semi-finals for the fourth time in a row - they failed to take the final hurdle that would have given them a place at the finals in Tahiti. With the Senegalese and Ivorians joining the 13 other qualified teams at the finals, only one place remains - from OFC - to be filled for the finals. FIFA.com reviews the African qualifiers.
Having won the African qualifiers in Morocco two years ago, the Senegalese were again one of the favourites going into this year's tournament and Amadou Diop's side did not disappoint as they started their campaign quickly by outplaying their opponents in the group phase. They scored a record 21 goals, with captain Ngalla Sylla marshalling the defence. In the semi-finals they faced four-time finalists Nigeria, and, after getting off to a slow start, they outlasted their rivals by a final score of 9-8, with Nigeria maintaining hope until the end.
In the final, which was played in windy conditions, Senegal outplayed Côte d'Ivoire as Pape Jean Koukpaki, Sylla and Ibrahima Balde gave them a three-goal lead. After goalkeeper Armand Kouadio missed a penalty which would have reduced the deficit, there was no coming back for the Ivorians as Senegal ran out 4-1 winners. Coach Diop said that their main goal had been to qualify for the World Cup. "But once that mission was accomplished, we refocused on the tournament. We wanted to get the cup to satisfy the Senegalese people, who gave us such strong support. The players, who worked hard to achieve their success, strongly believed in themselves." After receiving their trophy, the Senegalese players started an impromptu dance around the cup, which they had placed on the ground in front of their fans. After celebrating with them, they ran a lap of honour around the pitch, enjoying their second victory in the African tournament.
In contrast, the Ivorians had to fight for their second appearance on the global stage. After winning their opening match against Egypt 4-1, they struggled in their second as Libya raced to a 3-0 lead. Daniel Kouatssitchi pulled one back, but Mohaned Erryimed gave the Libyans a three-goal lead again. Anniced-Gildas Dago, Moustapha Sakanoko with two and Ludovic Ehounou turned things around and gave the Ivorians an important win. In the final group match they faced Nigeria and needed a last-gasp Kouatssitchi goal to win the group and avoid Senegal in the semi-finals. In the last four they faced the hosts Morocco and again had to work hard for their third 5-4 victory of the tournament. Kouatssitchi and Sakanoko were the outstanding players in Jean Soro's side and shared 17 of the teams' 20 goals between them. Soro said that even though they had lost the final, they had achieved their main target, which was to qualify for the World Cup. "Respect is due to the players, they showed great fighting spirit and commitment for the jersey of their country. They deserve all the honour. As a coach, I am more than satisfied."
The other pretenders
Hosts Morocco came within two goals of finally breaking the west African strangle-hold on the qualifiers. Led by inspirational striker Nassim El Hadaoui, who won the most valuable player award, the north Africans finished second in their group behind Senegal after beating Madagascar and Libya. They faced Côte d'Ivoire in the semi-finals, knowing that a place at Tahiti 2013 was at stake. Evenly poised after the second period, Morocco had a chance, but two goals for the Ivorians ended that dream and although Abdelkabir Moufakir pulled one back late in the game, it was a case of too little, too late.
The other team to lose in the semi-finals was Nigeria, who started the tournament as one of the main favourites. They won their two opening matches against Libya and Egypt 8-4, but then came unstuck against the Ivorians in their third, conceding a late goal. This saw the Super Sand Eagles face Senegal in the round of the last four and after going behind the Nigerian side had to play catch-up for the rest of the match, and they never quite managed - losing 9-8 in the end.
In Group A, rookies Ghana were given a rude welcome onto the continental stage as Morocco won 9-2 in their opening game, and Senegal beat them by an 11-3 scoreline. The final group game saw the two pointless teams - Ghana and Madagascar - face each other and the islanders, who made the semi-finals last time around, ran out comfortable 10-3 winners with Tianasoa Raseasimbola enjoying a wonderful five-goal run. The goals took the midfielder's tally to eight from just three matches and saw him finish in joint fourth in the scorers' chart.
A similar constellation occurred in Group B, where the final group match between Egypt and Libya had no bearing on the top two places. The Egyptians won the bragging rights with an 8-3 victory, with their top scorer Aly Elbarbary and Ahmed Mohamed Abouserie scoring three apiece.
1 Senegal *
2 Côte d'Ivoire *
* Qualified for Tahiti 2013
Most Valuable Player
Nassim El Hadaoui (Morocco)
Best Goalkeeper Award
Al Seyni N'Diaye (Senegal)
Azeez Abu (Nigeria) 12
Moustapha Sakanoko (Côte d'Ivoire) 9
Pape Jean Koukpaki (Senegal) 9
Ngalla Sylla (Senegal) 8
Daniel Kouatssitchi (Côte d'Ivoire) 8
Tianasoa Raseasimbola (Madagascar) 8
Nassim El Hadaoui (Morocco) 8
Cheikhouna Tidiane Lo (Senegal) 8
Isiaka Olawale (Nigeria) 6
Aly Elbarbary (Egypt) 6