A tense final day of the African qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup ended with Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia joining Egypt and Nigeria as the continent’s five qualifiers.
While the last two world finals saw the same quintet of Algeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria represent Africa on both occasions, Russia 2018 will welcome back some long-term absentees. Egypt last appeared on the Word Cup stage at Italy 1990, Morocco at France 1998, Senegal at Korea/Japan 2002 and Tunisia at Germany 2006.
We round up the final day of the qualification campaign in Africa, as the five groups reached their conclusion.
The big match
Côte d’Ivoire 0-2 Morocco
There was a white-hot atmosphere at the Stade Felix Houphouet Boigny in Abidjan, where a capacity crowd turned up in hope of seeing the Elephants record the win they needed to book a fourth consecutive World Cup appearance. Coached by Herve Renard, the man who steered Côte d’Ivoire to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations title in 2015, the Lions of the Atlas were far from overawed, however.
Though the Moroccans needed only a draw to progress, they managed even better than that. After soaking up some early pressure from an Ivorian side inspired by the hard-running Gervinho, the visitors took the lead on 25 minutes, when Nabil Dirar’s curling cross caught out Sylvain Gbohouo in the home goal and crept in at the far post. Five minutes later, the hosts found themselves 2-0 down when Mehdi Benatia drove the ball home from a corner. The north Africans then defended their lead stoutly to secure top spot in the group and a place in Russia.
Tunisia went into their home game with the already-eliminated Libya needing just a point to qualify. They got it thanks to a 0-0 draw, but not without enduring a nervy afternoon. With Congo DR doing what they had to do by beating Guinea 3-1, the Eagles of Carthage were just one Libyan goal away from falling short of their objective.
Nigeria used Friday’s trip to Algeria to begin their preparations for Russia 2018, having qualified with a game to spare. Despite fielding a below-strength side, the Super Eagles still managed to take the lead through John Ogu, but were denied victory by a late Yacine Brahimi penalty. Cameroon were also indebted to a late goal as Yaya Banana secured them a 2-2 draw in Zambia.
While Morocco were winning in Côte d’Ivoire, group rivals Gabon and Mali gave the fans in Franceville little to cheer about in playing out a goalless draw.
South Africa still entertained hopes of qualifying when they entertained Senegal in Polokwane in a replayed fixture on Friday. A victory for Bafana Bafana would also have kept Burkina Faso and Cape Verde Islands in the hunt for a trip to Russia. However, the Lions of Teranga killed off any hopes of last-day suspense by winning 2-0, with Diafra Sakho scoring early on and Thamsanqa Mkhize putting through his own goal to seal Senegal’s return to the world finals after a 16-year absence. The Senegalese will have the chance to celebrate qualification with their fans in Tuesday’s return match with the South Africans, while Burkina Faso play host to Cape Verde on the same day.
Like Nigeria, Egypt used their final group match – against Ghana – to begin their countdown to Russia 2018. A Shikabala goal earned the Pharaohs a point against an experimental Black Stars side, while Congo and Uganda recorded a 1-1 draw of their own in Brazzaville, with Milton Karisa scoring for the visitors just a minute after Marvin Baudry had put the Congolese in front.
What they said
“We didn’t have any intention of coming and putting 11 men behind the ball. The players were outstanding. They fought from start to finish and contested every ball, which says a lot for them when you look at the Côte d’Ivoire line-up. They stuck together and that made the difference.”
Morocco coach Herve Renard