Nigeria first team from Africa through to World Cup
Nigeria was the first team from Africa to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, doing it with a game to spare and emerging from the so-called ‘group of death’ after beating Zambia 1-0 at home on Saturday.
The victory, clinched by substitute Alex Iwobi’s goal with 17 minutes to go, ensured Nigeria will win Group B and qualify for the World Cup for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.
Only the five group winners qualify from Africa and at least three of the groups will go down to the wire and the last games next month. It could be four out of five groups if Egypt doesn’t take its chance on Sunday.
Tunisia could have joined Nigeria in Russia next year but despite a 4-1 win in Guinea will have to wait after Congo beat Libya to keep alive its hopes.
Egypt can reach the World Cup for the first time since 1990 if it beats Republic of Congo to end the penultimate round of qualifiers.
Youssek Msakni scored a hat trick for Tunisia, with his third coming six minutes into injury time, in the 4-1 win in Guinea.
Tunisia overturned a 1-0 deficit, too, after Naby Keita put the home team ahead. But Congo’s 2-1 win over Libya, in a game which was played in neutral Tunisia, delayed Tunisian celebrations. Tunisia needs a point in its last game at home to Libya next month to reach the World Cup.
Iwobi saw Nigeria through to Russia with a low shot that bounced through a group of players and into the net in the 73rd minute in Uyo. That advanced Nigeria to the World Cup and ended Zambia’s hopes of overtaking Nigeria at the end of the group stage.
The group also contained African champion Cameroon and the former top-ranked African team Algeria, who had both already been eliminated.
Group C is another that will be decided only at the very end of qualifying. The 2015 African champion Ivory Coast was held in Mali to 0-0 on Friday. Morocco’s 3-0 win over Gabon on Saturday — with a hat trick by Khalid Boutaib — saw it go above the Ivorians and top of the group by a point. Who qualifies out of Ivory Coast and Morocco will come down to a winner-takes-all clash between them in Ivory Coast on Nov. 6.
Senegal surged to the top of Group D by winning in Cape Verde 2-0 with goals in the last nine minutes from Diafra Sakho and Cheikh N’Doye. The Senegalese also have a game in hand over their nearest chasers after FIFA ordered their qualifier against South Africa last year be replayed because of match-fixing by the referee. Senegal lost the November 2016 game 2-1 but has a second chance at it after FIFA’s unprecedented move.
Burkina Faso’s hopes of a first appearance at the World Cup were dealt a blow when it lost in South Africa 3-1. All four teams can still qualify, but Senegal, boosted by FIFA’s decision, is suddenly the favorite. If it wins the replay in South Africa on Nov. 10, it’ll be through to the World Cup.
FIFA’s order that the Senegal-South Africa game be replayed may have opened a can of worms. On Saturday, the Ghana Football Association protested to FIFA and requested a replay, claiming it was denied a clear penalty and a legitimate late goal in a 0-0 draw in Uganda. The performances of South African referee Daniel Bennett and assistant referees Eldrick Adelaide and Steve Marie of the Seychelles should be “examined” by FIFA, the GFA said, and the game should be played again.
The 0-0 draw hurt Ghana’s hopes of qualifying, and Uganda’s also. Egypt could capitalize and become the second African team through to the finals in Russia if it beats Republic of Congo on Sunday at home.
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