A qualification process that began in November 2011, the craziness of the African play-offs comes to a head in November 2013. The most intriguing, intense round of all the World Cup qualifiers, all eyes will be firmly fixated on the continent. Here’s a preview of the games ahead.
Ivory Coast v Senegal
The most eye-catching of all the ties, a big African name is guaranteed to fall. The dying embers of a ‘golden’ generation against the underachievers of African football of the last couple of years. It is guaranteed to be intriguing.
The final opportunity for Didier Drogba to make a significant mark at the World Cup, the neutral can hope the Ivory Coast seal their third World Cup appearance in a row. The 35-year-old made a return to the national team against Mexico in August after the nation yearned for the return of their idol.
If Senegal qualify, it would be the first time since 2002, when they famously reached the quarter-finals. Last time out in World Cup qualifying, they were knocked out in the second round of qualifying . Qualifying has been something Senegal have made a hash of recently, failure to qualify for two of the last three African Cup of Nations has rose a few eyebrows. Especially for a nation that regards itself as one of the major players in the African game. However, with a high variety of players playing across the top level of Europe, they are a stern test for the Ivorians.
How they qualified
Ivory Coast – Pipped Morocco to top spot with four wins and two draws. A Didier Drogba penalty at home to Morocco sealed their place in the playoffs. Fitting.
Senegal – Successfully navigated their way past an upcoming Uganda team as they claimed a 1-0 win over ‘The Cranes’ in Marrakech to top their qualifying group.
Ethiopia v Nigeria
The African champions against a side finding its footballing feet for the first time since the 1960s. It is a game that could be more open than it appears. The two have met as recently as the 2013 African Cup Of Nations, when Victor Moses scored two penalties to seal Nigeria’s place in the knockout round, subsequently knocking Ethiopia out.
Nigeria have had a funny year, a rallied performance in the African Cup of Nations knockout rounds saw them claim only their third title. At the Confederations Cup, they made a mockery of the African continent by turning up the day before their opening game against Tahiti. Clear disrespect for their opponent, it was fitting that they were embarrassed by conceding to the minnows. The final two matches showed how African football is still a long way from matching South American and European football as they were outclassed by Uruguay andSpain.
Ethiopia have been a revelation over the last few years, after qualifying for their first African Cup of Nations since 1982, the prospect of their first World Cup is tantalising. A squad mostly made up of domestic players, concerns could be raised about their level, however they showed at the African Cup Of Nations in their opener against Zambia that they could match the very best in Africa.
How they qualified
Nigeria – Romped to victory in their group as they remained unbeaten against Malawi, Kenya and Namibia. Despite this, three draws could be described as cause for concern.
Ethiopia – In simplistic terms, Bernard Parker sent Ethiopia to this stage. His own goal in the qualifying decider in Addis Ababa proved to be the difference in the group.