This weekend sees the end of the second round of qualifying in Africa. 12 countries were eliminated in the first round, and the remaining 40 teams seeded into 10 groups based on each country’s FIFA ranking.
The CAF qualifying structure is perhaps overly reliant on the FIFA rankings, allowing no room for manuevering. With those rankings based on how a country has played over the course of a longer period of time, teams that have recently risen to the top are still given lower numbers. This time around, Ghana, ranked third in Africa by FIFA, were seeded into Group D, where Zambia, winners of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, also landed. Ghana’s win over Zambia on Friday means Zambia are out of the running.
But that was yesterday, and this is today, when Group A kicked off the play in Africa. Prior to Saturday, the standings were already tight, although Central Africa Republic was out of the running. Both Botswana and South Africa were hoping for a surprise victory by the CAR, whereas Ethiopia needed a win to assure progression.
In the end, there were no miracles, no divine intervention. Ethiopia beat Central African Republic to progress, and the other countries will set their sights on Russia.
South Africa 4-1 Botswana
Ouch. This has got to be painful for South Africa. The Bafana Bafana had a 2-0 lead by halftime. Then Botswana had the temerity to score in the 73rd minute. As punishment, Bernard Parker added two more, the last of which was a converted penalty in the 89th minute. Alas, their efforts were in vain, because…
Central African Republic 1-2 Ethiopia
For the first half, it looked as though South Africa might have a chance. They were up 2-0 over Botswana and, somehow, Central African Republic were beating Ethiopia. But then reality set in and Ethiopia came fighting back after the break, scoring two goals before the hour mark. The three points put them atop the table and handed Ethiopia, who actually began qualification as one of the lower seeded teams, the chance to prove themselves in the third and final round of qualifying.