Africa’s World Cup qualifying concluded on Tuesday evening with a pulsating series of second legs, leaving Nigeria and Egypt fans bereft of their teams’ exits.
No Mohamed Salah at the 2022 World Cup 😩 pic.twitter.com/DRVQcnFfkk
— GOAL (@goal) March 29, 2022
While five teams – Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia and Cameroon – have booked their tickets to Qatar, much of the discussion after the dramatic bouts have focused on who’s missed out on the global showpiece.
But there’s still plenty to see for Africa’s fans, including Liverpool and Senegal stalwart Sadio Mane, and Cameroon creatives Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Karl Toko Ekambi.
Here are the key talking points – and some of the lessons learned — from the denouement of Africa’s World Cup qualifying campaign.
Africa’s finest to miss out on Qatar
Africa’s most high-profile absentee at the World Cup later this year will be Mohamed Salah after Egypt came up short – again – when faced with Senegal and a penalty shootout.
Less than two months after losing the Africa Cup of Nations final against the Teranga Lions on penalties, the Pharaohs again came up short after Hamdi Fathi’s own goal in Dakar cancelled out Saliou Ciss’s own goal in the first leg in Cairo.
Having been criticised for not taking a penalty in the Nations Cup final shootout, Salah stepped up first on Tuesday, only to blaze his spot-kick over the bar after Kalidou Koulibaly, Senegal’s skipper, had hit the bar with his opening effort.
Ahmed Sayed Zizo and Mostafa Mohamed would also miss as Senegal ran out 3-1 winners in a shootout blighted by lasers being shone in the faces of Pharaohs players by the home supporters.
I mean, just look at this. Salah sails his penalty over… and surely anybody would, given the lasers.
Mane scores, Senegal wins the shootout, Egypt out of the World Cup pic.twitter.com/tgHmCmW8uu
— Henry Bushnell (@HenryBushnell) March 29, 2022
Those of a Senegalese persuasion may claim it’s karmic justice for Egypt fans aiming lasers of their own at the Teranga Lions during the first leg, but legitimate questions can be asked about why the Algerian official didn’t intervene amidst some feeble pleas from the stadium announcer for fans to desist in their bating of the visiting players.
The Egyptian Football Association have lodged a formal complaint, but it’s unlikely to change the bottom line: Salah will miss the World Cup.
It’s a bitter blow for a player who’s considered Africa’s finest, and is enjoying a magnificent season at club level, but whose international legacy is unravelling after a miserable two months.
Failure to reach Qatar comes on the back of a disappointing AFCON for Salah — even though he was generously named in the Team of the Tournament — with Egypt ultimately capitulating in the final.
Now 29, 2022 was the year for Salah to take on both the AFCON and the World Cup in his prime; instead, one passed him by, and he’ll be absent for the other.
He’ll turn 34 during the 2026 tournament, and failure on Tuesday surely means that — after injury overshadowed Salah’s performance at Russia 2018 — we’ve likely been denied the prospect of ever seeing one of Africa’s all-time greats truly make his mark on the grandest stage.
Africa’s champions advance to the World Cup, but Africa’s top player is left ruing what might have been.
Nigeria only have themselves to blame
Elimination by Ghana in Abuja on Tuesday — the Black Stars advance on away goals following a 1-1 draw — brings to a close three and a half chaotic and muddled months in which the Nigeria Football Federation have surely contributed to their own side’s demise.
While few supporters argued with the dismissal of Gernot Rohr in mid-December, the timing of the German coach’s exit — so soon before the Nations Cup and the World Cup playoff — raised concerns.
Subsequently, Nigeria have been made to pay for his precipitous — or belated, depending on your point of view – dismissal.
After a premature exit at the AFCON, they were second best against Ghana in Kumasi by failing to net an away goal and were then up against it from the opening stages in front of their own fans, when Thomas Partey gave the Black Stars the advantage in the eleventh minute.
Nigeria responded from the spot via William Troost-Ekong, but head coach Augustine Eguavoen – initially the short-term replacement for Rohr – failed to capitalise on his immense attacking resources to hurt a Ghana side who conceded three goals against Comoros just over two months ago.
🚨 | Nigeria fans storm the stadium after their side failed to qualify for the Qatar World Cup. This resulted in fans throwing objects at the Ghana players and smashing the dugouts pic.twitter.com/RHTS0ApTV8
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) March 30, 2022
Of course, the absences of Wilfred Ndidi and top goalkeeper Maduka Okoye were massive blows, but once again, the absence of a strategy, the lack of coherent long-term thinking, and inconsistency in selection and appointments have undermined a genuinely talented Nigeria squad.
The consequence is that the Eagles — can we really call them ‘Super’? — miss out on only their second World Cup since first qualifying in 1993. NFF and Amaju Pinnick have serious questions to answer…
Morocco silence the critics…for now
Unlike their fellow North Africans Egypt and Algeria, a difficult few months for Morocco ultimately ended in delight as they thumped the Democratic Republic of Congo 5-2 on aggregate — with a 4-1 triumph in Casablanca on Tuesday — to progress.
The resounding victory will silence some of coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s critics for now, with the Bosnian previously alienating many supporters and media with his decision to cut Chelsea playmaker Hakim Ziyech and Ajax’s Noussair Mazraoui.
The knives were out after their limp Nations Cup exit at the hands of Egypt, while the decision to omit the creative Ziyech – who’s since retired from international football – risked coming back to haunt Vahid after they were held 1-1 in Kinshasa in the first leg.
— 𝕊𝕋𝔸ℕ𝔻 𝕐𝕆𝕌ℝ 𝔾ℝ𝕆𝕌ℕ𝔻 👊 (@Ultramaniatics_) March 30, 2022
After a magnificent attacking display in Casa, however, coupled with a 100-per cent record during the group stage, Morocco’s tails are up as they reach consecutive World Cups for the first time since 1998.
Most encouragingly, based on Tuesday’s showing, are the new threats emerging in the form of Tarik Tissoudali — who scored twice across the two legs — and Azzedine Ounahi, whose double in the second leg took the tie beyond DRC.
Both players only made their debuts for Morocco at the AFCON, in the victory over Ghana, but have settled well at the international level, with Ounahi’s magnificent opener on Tuesday the most outstanding moment of individual quality from across both matchdays in Africa.
Even more encouragingly for Halilhodzic, however, will be the way the two dovetailed for the 21-year-old’s second, as Tissoudali burst down the left before crossing for Ounahi to finish calmly.
With invention and interplay like this, who needs Ziyech…?!
Queiroz departs Pharaohs post
The first (and probably not only) managerial casualty from the World Cup qualifiers is Egypt’s Carlos Queiroz, who announced his exit from the Pharaohs post in the immediate aftermath of their defeat.
“[The] dream is over,” he posted on social media. “From the bottom of my heart, my gratitude to Egypt Federation for this honour of coaching the National Team.
“It was my privilege to work and be helped by such dedicated and capable professionals and wonderful friends.”
The ex-Real Madrid head coach and Manchester United assistant manager promised much upon his appointment as Egypt boss, having overseen a notable improvement with the Iran national side during two World Cup campaigns with Team Melli.
Footage of a Senegal fan pointing a laser towards Egypt players during the match.
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 29, 2022
While he did take Egypt to an AFCON final, his brief six-month spell with the national side has been one of frustration and controversy, with the Pharaohs winning few admirers for their cagey, conservative style, and Queiroz’s own incendiary touchline antics prompting criticism.
He was suspended for the Nations Cup final after being sent off in the semi against Cameroon, although both during that tournament and for the playoff against Senegal, Queiroz managed to oversee resolute defensive displays despite a swathe of key absentees due to injury and suspension.
Algeria’s decline continues
Few could have imagined, at the turn of the year, that the first quarter of 2022 would go so badly for former African champions Algeria and Riyad Mahrez.
They entered the calendar year as reigning African champions, and cultivating a continental record undefeated streak, only for things to unravel spectacularly. Their run ended on 35 matches at the hands of modest Equatorial Guinea, before they were dumped out of the Nations Cup by the Ivory Coast.
In the first leg of these playoffs, it appeared as though they had finally put an end to their disastrous run by banishing the demons of Douala and defeating Cameroon at the Stade de Japoma – the same arena where their AFCON dreams had imploded – setting them up for a strong second leg in Blida.
118'—Algeria goal just about sends them to the World Cup
120+4'—Cameroon goal sends them to the World Cup
— 101 Great Goals (@101greatgoals) March 29, 2022
Algeria have never lost a match at the Stade Mustapha Tchaker — winning 36 of their previous 43 fixtures at the venue – but that run came to a screeching halt on Tuesday, in the most remarkable circumstances.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s goal – firmly against the run of play — in the 22nd minute ultimately sent the tie to extra time, and while substitute Ahmed Touba thought he’d won it with a header in the 118th minute, Karl Toko Ekambi struck from close range in the 125th minute to send Cameroon to Qatar.
Head coach Djamel Belmadi collapsed to the turf, head in hands, tears rolling down his cheeks at the full-time whistle, simply aghast at how — as during the AFCON – Algeria could dominate possession, create a hatful of chances, but fail to kill off a contest.
Manchester City maestro Mahrez, irresistible at times, was also guilty of missing a decent opportunity, and he, like Salah, will have to watch Qatar 2022 on television.
For Cameroon, Samuel Eto’o’s decision to sack head coach Toni Conceicao, and appoint national legend Rigobert Song has paid off handsomely, as the Indomitable Lions qualify for their record-extending eighth World Cup.
Note: This article is written by Ed Dove and has been published at ESPN FC