Magazine article New African

The Great Escape! So, Finally, We Know the African Teams Going to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa: Ghana, Cote D'lvoire, the Hosts South Africa, Cameroon, Algeria, and Nigeria. and What a Great Escape It Turned out to Be for Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria! Tom Mbakwe Reports

Magazine article New African

The Great Escape! So, Finally, We Know the African Teams Going to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa: Ghana, Cote D'lvoire, the Hosts South Africa, Cameroon, Algeria, and Nigeria. and What a Great Escape It Turned out to Be for Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria! Tom Mbakwe Reports

Article excerpt

THE CELEBRATIONS IN LAGOS AND Algiers were spectacular, mainly because, for Nigeria most of their fans had given up on World Cup qualification, and for Algeria it was more a war than a football game against their arch-rivals Egypt, who had snatched a dramatic late goal in Cairo to take the encounter into the playoff on 18 November in Khartoum, Sudan.

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Lacklustre performances in the earlier games of the qualifying round had seen Nigeria trailing group rivals Tunisia by two points. The Super Eagles were also behind the north Africans on goal difference, and in the head-to-head equation, having drawn I-I in Tunis and 2-2 in Abuja.

Thus, in the last game on 14 November, Nigeria had to beat Kenya in Nairobi at all costs to qualify. But even that would have counted for nothing if Tunisia had beaten Mozambique away in Maputo. As it happened, after a huge scare, Nigeria managed to beat Kenya 3-2 and were done a big favour by Mozambique who scored a cracking 83rd minute goal to dash Tunisian hopes of going to South Africa.

In Nairobi, in front of a baying home crowd, the Kenyans were in no mood to dish out favours, and as early as the 16th minute, Dennis Oliech burst into the box to put Kenya 1-0 up. A shocked Nigeria took 46 long minutes thereafter to come to terms with what was happening to their World Cup hopes. However, in the 62nd minute, Obafemi Martins fired home from close range to bring the score level.

Three minutes later Nigeria were ahead when Yakubu Ayegbeni saw his shot hit the post and rebound, before calmly slotting it home to make it 2-1, only for the lead to be wiped out in the 79th minute by Allan Wetende. The Nigerians had left Abuja with nothing but an away victory on their minds, and with the score at 2-2 and time running out, they had cause to celebrate wildly when Obafemi Martins snatched the winning goal in the 83rd minute. The roar in Abuja and Lagos could be heard miles away! Especially when Tunisia, down by a goal in the 83rd minute in Maputo, failed to score.

With their superior head-to-head position against Nigeria, Tunisia only needed a draw in Maputo to condemn Nigeria to a second successive World Cup fiasco. In the end, Nigeria went through to their fourth World Cup finals, having qualified in 1994,1998 and 2002.

Their delight was eloquently expressed by their midfielder and Chelsea star, John Obi Mikel, who probably played his best game for the Super Eagles since making his national debut in 2006. "We never gave up even though it appeared we had lost it when we drew against Tunisia in Abuja. We were determined to make Nigerians happy by being part of the World Cup."

Mikel can now join his Chelsea teammates Michael Essien of Ghana and Didier Drogba of Cote d'lvoire, in planning for the World Cup.

Algeria vs Egypt

Up north, in the deserts of North Africa, a battle royale was unfolding between the arch-rivals Egypt and Algeria. Egypt were trailing Algeria by three points and not only did the Pharoahs need to win the head-to-head encounter in Cairo on 14 November, they also had to score 3 goals without reply to put paid to Algerian hopes of reaching South Africa. That was definitely a big ask. As it turned out, the best the Egyptians could manage was a tense 2-0 win, the second goal coming as late as the 95th minute to send the encounter into a playoff in Sudan on 18 November. …

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