2012: Africa's Epic Marathon of Football
Every year offers a new chapter of football, especially in Africa, where it is no stranger to prestigious tournaments. But in 2012, the continent witnessed an epic journey that saw the year begin with its continental competition. The year ended with two separate which preceded two different qualifying campaigns for both the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2014 World Cup.
Along the way, unfancied nations made their mark on the global stage, while other countries endured difficult periods. In the end, 2012 was the year Africa enjoyed one of its most prosperous years of football.
Miracle at Libreville
Gabon and Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON); before the tournament began, the most notable absentees included South Africa, Cameroon, Algeria, Nigeria, and three-time defending champions Egypt.
In addition, three nations debuted in 2012, including Equatorial Guinea; at 151st in the FIFA Ranking, Equatorial Guinea was the lowest ranked among all 16 countries. Botswana and Niger also debuted at this tournament, the latter topping its group ahead of South Africa and Egypt.
Destiny became an underlying theme as Equatorial Guinea kicked off the tournament when it defeated Libya on an 87th-minute goal from Javier Balboa. Four days later, Equatorial Guinea became the tournament's first quarter finalist after Kily Alvarez scored in stoppage time against Senegal. The winning goal came after Senegal's Moussa Sow tied the match in the 89th minute at 1-1.
Gabon emulated Equatorial Guinea's feat in more dramatic circumstances against Morocco. Bruno Zita Mbanangoye scored on the final play of the match, with the goal coming eight minutes into stoppage time to break a 2-2 tie. Houssine Kharja had equalized one minute into stoppage time with his second goal of the game. Gabon won all three group stage games to qualify for its first quarterfinals since 1996.
Other than Equatorial Guinea, another quarter-finalist defied odds in 2012. One of the original teams from the first AFCON in 1957, Sudan sought to break out of the wilderness since winning its only continental title in 1970. Sudan showed some promise against Ivory Coast in the first match, but still extended its unwanted droughts.
That was until Mohamed Ahmed Bashir scored twice against Angola, giving Sudan its first goals at the tournament since 1976. Four days after drawing 2-2 with Angola, Sudan broke another drought along the way: thanks to Mudather El Tahir also scoring twice against Burkina Faso, Sudan not only won its first tournament game in 42 years, but Sudan qualified for the quarterfinals over Angola on goal difference.
Sudan's run came to an abrupt halt; Zambia won 3-0 against Sudan to win its first quarterfinal since 1996 before upsetting Ghana to reach the final. The 2012 AFCON was not just at any location for Zambia's football team; Libreville, Gabon was the site of Zambia's most tragic event in 1993 when a plane crash near Libreville killed all 30 people on board ahead of an important 1994 World Cup qualifier.
Zambia faced the Ivory Coast in a final which finished scoreless after 120 minutes and a penalty shootout took place. Each team converted its attempt for seven straight rounds, including one Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene. Then after the teams combined to miss three consecutive attempts, Stophira Sunzu scored to send Zambia into euphoria.
Destiny smiled on Zambia. The site of the saddest day became the site of the greatest triumph.
One year ago, Zambia was at its worst ranking ever at 102nd. After winning the 2012 AFCON, Zambia cracked the top 50 for the first time in 11 years and finish since 2012 with its highest ranking in 14 years.
Qualifiers following AFCON 2012
With Africa switching its continental tournament to odd-number years, qualifying for the 2013 AFCON went into full swing on February 29, 2012. By October 2012, 15 nations would join South Africa in the tournament.
In the first round of 2013 AFCON qualifying, some of Africa's best countries struggled against Africa's emerging nations. Cameroon needed late goals to fend off Guinea-Bissau, while Togo advanced on away goals against Kenya. Algeria and Cape Verde Islands had little trouble in their two-legged ties against Gambia and Madagascar, respectively. However,
However, Egypt suffered the biggest shock in this stage as the Central African Republic handed the seven-time continental champions another shocking elimination.
As 2013 AFCON qualifying continued, the second round of 2014 World Cup began on June 1. in June. At first, the major story in World Cup qualifying would have happened on June 2, when hosts Sudan upset Zambia 2-0 in Omdurman. However, on Oct. 9, 2012, FiFA awarded Zambia a 3-0 victory as a disciplinary committee ruled that Sudan's Saif Ali should not have played in the June 2 match.
Along with Sudan to open campaigns with 3-0 forfeit losses because on an ineligible player were Gabon and Burkina Faso. It would be Morocco and Egypt that had significant results during this month.
Morocco hosted Côte d'Ivoire in Marrakesh at Marrakech in an entertaining qualifier in Marrakesh in which the hosts came back twice. With Morocco trailing 2-1 and looking to return to its first World Cup since 1998, Hamza Abourazzouk scored his first goal for Morocco in the 89th minute as the hosts finished 2-2.
However, a late goal proved painful for Guinea as it hosted Egypt. Guinea had its starting goalkeeper Naby Yattara sent off in the match but managed to score the tying goal thanks to Alhassane Bangoura scored in the 88th minute. However, Egypt pulled off a stunning result as Mohamed Salah scored three minutes into stoppage time as Egypt won 3-2.
In July, 15 fixtures were drawn to determine participants at the upcoming 2013 AFCON in South Africa. Among the notable fixtures included two-legged fixtures between Mali and Botswana, who met at the 2012 AFCON, and the North African derbies of Libya-Algeria and Ethiopia-Sudan. Perhaps no fixture that was unassuming proved interesting that Tunisia and Sierra Leone.
These two nations would meet four times in nine months. Tunisia and Sierra Leone are in the same World Cup qualifying group.
Some veteran players from Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, and Gabon had a busy summer as well. These four nations participated at the men's Olympic football tournament, which is an under-23 tournament.
He scored three goals for Morocco at the 2012 AFCON; in the Olympics, Kharja added an Olympic competition to his four previous AFCON trips. Morocco played in its seventh Olympic Tournament and fought valiantly in a group that featured Spain, Japan, and Honduras. Morocco's only goals came in its opening 2-2 draw against Honduras as the African nation exited the group stage.
Egypt was in its 11th tournament appearance, but first in 20 years. Egypt capitalized on its overage players with experience: Mohamed Aboutrika, Emad Moteab, and Ahmed Fathy all combined for 241 caps for Egypt, including participations at four AFCON tournaments as well as the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Thanks to Aboutrika and Salah, Egypt advanced to its first quarter-final in 28 years when it defeated Belarus 3-1.
Unlike Egypt, Gabon, debutants in the tournament, featured most of its players from the 2012 AFCON. That included its star player Aubameyang, who scored Gabon's only goal against Switzerland as it exited the group stage with two draws.
The final African nation needed a one-game play-off against Oman just to reach the Olympics. Senegal, also debuting at the tournament, only used two older players in their roster and Mohamed Diame as captain. Diame watched Senegal lose all three games 2-1 each at the 2012 AFCON. In the Olympics, Senegal reached the quarter-finals with Papa Moussa Konate scored five goals in four games. Diame started all four of Senegal's games, including its quarter-final match against Mexico in which Senegal forced extra time before losing 4-2.
Joining South Africa at AFCON 2013 is...
Fifteen two-legged fixtures in qualifying for the 2013 African Cup of Nations took place over a span of five weeks in September and October. This stage saw many nations like Nigeria and Algeria return to the tournament. DR Congo qualified for the tournament for the first time since 2006, with Dieumerci Mbokani scoring three goals over two legs against Equatorial Guinea while Zambia was one of the several nations that survived close calls to qualify for the 2013 AFCON.
Zambia needed another penalty shootout to qualify for the 2013 AFCON. This time, Sunzu scored the winning goal once again as Zambia won 9-8 in the shootout in Kampala, Uganda. The result painful for Uganda as it sought its first AFCON appearance came in 1978
Morocco had a difficult time against Mozambique after losing in Maputo 2-0 in the first leg; Morocco overturned that deficit to win 4-0 in Marrakech. Home games were what Niger took advantage of to qualify for the 2012 AFCON. Deja vu happened in Niamey when Niger upset Guinea 2-0 to qualify for South Africa.
Finally, qualifying was marred by events during the second leg of Ivory Coast's meeting with Senegal in Dakar. Following Drogba's second goal, fans began rioting in the stadium, somewhat a microcosm for Senegal's disappointing year. Senegal started 2012 dropping 25 places after the 2012 AFCON and ended with Senegal playing its last meaningful game on home soil until nearly two years later.
An Historic Victory
Rebirth at Sao Tome e Principe
2012 saw unfancied nations emerge in Africa. The first African nation to make significant strides did so eight days into 2012. Africa's first important match in 2012 did not come in Equatorial Guinea. Instead, it was Sao Tome e Principe on Jan. 8, 2012 that hosted Lesotho in the first qualifying match for the 2013 AFCON.
Instead, Sao Tome e Principe on Jan. 8, 2012 hosted Lesotho in the first qualifying match for the 2013 AFCON.
This game came two months after Sao Tome e Principe played World Cup qualifiers against Congo, the nation's first matches in eight years. Before, Sao Tome e Principe was an unranked nation as it had not played any games in four years. But Jair Nunes scored a third-minute penalty to give Sao Tome e Principe its first victory since 2000. Sao Tome e Principe almost managed another upset against Sierra Leone after winning 2-1 on Feb. 29, 2012. Sao Tome e Principe could not defend a 3-1 aggregate lead as they allowed four goals in a 23-minute span to lose 5-4 on aggregate.
Upset at Alexandria
Heartbreak at Ouagadougou
Wild Beasts' Meteoric Rise & Gut-Wrenching Falls
In 2010, the Central African Republic stood 202nd in the FIFA Rankings. But with victories over Algeria and Tanzania, the Central African Republic cracked the top 100, missing out on an unlikely berth at the 2012 AFCON as one of the two best runners-up.
Still in 2012, the Central African Republic had its month of glory. In June 2012, the Central African Republic played its first World Cup qualifier in 12 years and defeated Botswana 2-0 on June 2 to win its first ever World Cup qualifier. The two goals from Foxi Kethevoama were also the first for his country. His third goal came in the second leg of an AFCON qualifier against Egypt later in the month. It was a 1-1 draw against Egypt in a match postponed from February due to the Port Said disaster to send Egypt crashing out.
That was because two weeks earlier, the Central African Republic recorded perhaps one of Africa's biggest upsets. Hilaire Momi scored two tying goals in Alexandra, Egypt before a 69th-minute goal from David Manga gave the Central African Republic a 3-2 upset.
In September, the Central African Republic continued its impressive year after Vianney Mabide scored the only goal in a victory against Burkina Faso 1-0. In October, the Central African Republic ranked 49th and stood on the cusp of an unlikely berth after Manga opened the scoring seven minutes into the second leg in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. However, Alain Traore scored twice in the match. Heading into extra time, the Central African Republic would have reached the 2013 AFCON on away goals; Traore's second goal came in stoppage time, and the Central African Republic had a 2013 berth snatched away.
Upset in September
The Sharks are Biting at Last
Before 2012, some players born in the country rejected the opportunity to represent the Cape Verde Islands, notably Sweden's Henrik Larsson and Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes.
But fortunes changed when Cape Verde Islands held Portugal to a scoreless draw ahead of the 2010 World Cup.Portugal ranked third ahead of the 2010 World Cup compared to Cape Verde at 117th.
Cape Verde missed out on the 2012 AFCON on goal difference, despite ending 2011 with its highest ranking back then. Cape Verde was poised to qualify for the 2013 AFCON, beginning with comfortable victories over Madagascar before its meeting with Cameroon.
Before upsetting Cameroon 2-0 in the first leg, Cape Verde Islands lost its first two World Cup qualifiers and in crisis. In its second leg against Cameroon, the Cape Verde Islands opened the scoring in the second leg. Despite giving up two goals to lose the second leg, Cape Verde qualified for the 2013 AFCON. Its first major tournament for the country was significant as the Cape Verde Islands became the smallest nation to qualify for the AFCON.
Cape Verde's reward for qualifying would be unique: a date with South Africa at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium to kick off the 2013 AFCON.
First Leg Epic in Omdurman
The Wait is Over...At Long Last
A pioneering African nation returned to prominence by ended a long absence in qualifying for the 2013 AFCON. It was not too long ago that FIFA expelled Ethiopia during 2010 World Cup qualifying.
In 2011, Ethiopia lost once in 11 matches and improvement continued in June 2012 as Ethiopia recorded two impressive results in World Cup qualifying: a 1-1 draw away to South Africa before a 2-0 victory against Central African Republic. A week after his team secured four points from its first two games, Adane Girma scored against Benin in Cotonou in a 2013 AFCON qualifier.
Although Ethiopia lost 5-3 in the first leg, Ethiopia returned home for the second leg needing to win by two goals. The second leg was scoreless for an hour until a four-minute span turned the series around. Girma made the aggregate lead 5-4 before Saladin Said, having scored goals in World Cup qualifiers, scored in the 64th minute. After ten goals over the two legs, Ethiopia had emerged from the wilderness.
Ethiopia qualified for its first AFCON in 31 years.
Africa's 54th Team
History was made in February 2012 as Africa welcomed its 54th nation; three months later, South Sudan, which became an independent nation over a year ago, became FIFA's 209th member.
South Sudan hosted its first official match on July 10, 2012. The newly-formed country faced Uganda after South Sudan had played two previous games against two other clubs. Despite playing most of the match with a man advantage, South Sudan had to come from behind twice to Uganda. Richard Justin's penalty cancelled out Caesar Okhuti's opener. A year earlier, he scored South Sudan's first ever goal; three minutes from halftime, James Joseph Moga tied the match after Julius Ogwang put Uganda up 2-1.
Four months later, South Sudan made history again - this time, it would participate in its first ever tournament at the CECAFA Cup. However, South Sudan's journey ended with three losses and without a goal.
Over the course of 12 months, 2012 saw Africa at its busiest and what it proved what that the following year, it helped set the stage for what unfolded in 2013. Countries emerged and reemerged while new stars also ushered in a new generation of success that their countries had never seen previously.
One this was certain; 2012 saw the world taken Africa and football seriously.
- Log In - The New York Times
- BBC Sport - Africa Cup of Nations: Cape Verde and Ethiopia qualify
Cape Verde shock Cameroon to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, and Ethiopia also make it to South Africa.
- Riot stops play as Côte d'Ivoire beats Senegal in CAN qualifier - Senegal - Africa Cup of Nations -
Revisit one of the darkest days in Senegal's footballing history, when riots broke on in the capital city of Dakar.
© 2014 Antonio Martinez