All eyes were on Africa. Saturday 8 October 2005 was set up to be one of the most memorable days in the history of FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, and it did not disappoint. While qualifying action was ongoing across the four other continents, there was a magic hour in Africa where the world’s attention was focused when four teams reached their first ever World Cup in dramatic fashion.
Ahead of the day of drama, Ghana needed a victory against Cape Verde Islands to rubber stamp qualification, which onlookers considered a mere formality. Captain Stephen Appiah remembers pre-match butterflies though.
"As we got closer to kick off, I started feeling a little nervous thinking 'what if we lose the game?'" Appiah told FIFA.com. "The feeling of letting the nation down crossed my mind but looking round the dressing room amidst our usual songs of praise and the desire in the eyes of the boys, I started to relax."
Kigali was the venue for the first slice of history. 25,000 fans packed into the Stade Amahoro to witness a nervy and tense affair between hosts Rwanda and Angola. Victory would see the visitors improbably end Nigeria’s run of World Cup appearances, stretching back to 1994. The Super Eagles themselves were making light work of Zimbabwe almost 2000 miles away in Abuja, racing to a 3-0 lead by the hour mark.
The Rwandans were holding firm and it remained goalless in Kigali. That is, until the talismanic Angolan captain Akwa finally broke the deadlock. A cross from substitute Ze Kalanga floated onto the head of the skipper, who nodded over the Rwandan goalkeeper. The forward was already weeping before the final whistle was blown. He had made history. In spite of Nigeria cantering to a 5-1 victory, the value of Akwa’s goal on the final day was matched by his strike in June 2004 against the Super Eagles, which handed his country a 1-0 victory and the better head-to-head record of the two sides who ended up level. The *Palancas Negras *were heading to their inaugural global finals.
As Akwa nodded home, Togo had come from behind for the first (but not the last) time that afternoon. They went into the interval against Congo level after Emmanuel Adebayor had cancelled out Bertrand Bouity’s opener in Brazzaville. As Angola reached Germany, the half-time scores across the rest of Africa indicated Togo (by virtue of a better head-to-head against Senegal), Cameroon (then leading against Egypt) and Ghana (who were comfortably 2-0 ahead) would be joining them. Tension was building.
Just after the interval, Congo went back in front and, as it stood, Togo had handed Senegal a seat at the top table in Germany. Minutes later, Didier Drogba set up Aruna Dindane to double Côte d’Ivoire’s advantage against Sudan in Omdurman, but it was seemingly in vain, with Cameroon still leading against Egypt. Mohamed Kader pulled Togo level in Brazzaville, swinging the pendulum back in favour of the Togolese in Group 1.
Dindane added his second, and his country’s third with 15 minutes remaining. And then came news from Yaounde. Mohamed Shawky had equalised for Egypt. As it stood, *Les Elephants *were to join Angola as another African debutant. As Shawky scored against Cameroon, Kader netted his second for Togo to put them ahead against Congo meaning, bar a late fightback from the Congolese, they too would be joining the Angolans on the plane to Germany as World Cup debutants.
As the full time whistle blew in Brazzaville, and Togo started to make their plans for their first global finals, Cameroon pushed and pushed in Yaounde, roared on by the fervent and desperate home crowd. Egypt resisted. The clock ticked over into added time, the score still level. Another hopeful lofted pass into the Egyptian penalty area was controlled by Salomon Olembe. The No11 tumbled. Penalty.
Pierre Wome stepped up to take the spot kick, knowing a goal would send his side to Germany. After a long run-up, his effort crashed off the right-hand post and wide. Wome placed his hands on his hips and bowed his head. The full time whistle went, and it was swiftly followed by the whistle in Omdurman, where Côte d’Ivoire had won 3-1. Improbably, Côte d’Ivoire had halted Cameroon’s run of consecutive World Cups, stretching back two decades.
Ghana had coasted to a 4-0 win in Praia against the Cape Verde Islands. Remarkably, four African World Cup debutants had been confirmed in a little over an hour of incredible qualifying drama.
"That night, all we wanted to do was party," Appiah recalled. "It's up there as one of the greatest achievements not only for me but for the other players and the nation as a whole. What I remember most apart from the game was when one of the management team congratulated me for being the first Ghanaian captain to take the team to a World Cup. It was a great feeling for me."
Tunisia joined them all as the fifth African nation, drawing 2-2 in a tense finale of Group 5 against Morocco. One thing is certain, that magic hour of joy and despair across Africa is certainly the benchmark against which any future World Cup qualifying drama will be held.