A couple of weeks ago, the African nations were celebrating qualification to the AFCON 2012, the premier continental tournament to take place in the early days of February next year. Quite interesting was the non qualification of Egypt. This was for two simple reasons. The Egyptians had made this Cup a personal property having won it thrice in succession and a record six times, hence were expected to stroll through to the finals without much ado.
The other point to ponder was whether it had been monotonously boring that they did not give it a go at all. For technical reasons, the fact that Ali Shihata and his senior guard had been in that position too long to build contempt on the AFCON is valid.
Despite that fact, the point that the Pharoahs have that record in the Cup makes not much difference in their status as the team to beat.
Shihata has been since replaced by former USA coach, Bob Bradley who injected young blood into the Pharoahs. In their group, they faced South Africa‘s Bafana Bafana, Sierra Leone and Niger in the famous Group G. You will remember how Bafana topped the Group but did not qualify because they were equal on points with the other two teams, but then, Niger played better against Bafana.
This disregarded all the strength and prowess Bafana showed in the group and focussed only on the three teams as if the Mighty Pharoahs of Egypt do not exist. The impression given here is that Egypt are minnows and playing against them is a non-event. Let me take you back to the article in these pages about the rules of CAF concerning the qualification criterion.
14.3. Greater number of goals scored in the group matches between the concerned teams;
14.4. Greater number of away goals scored in the direct matches between the concerned teams;
14.5. Goal difference in all the group matches;
14.6. Greatest number of goals scored in all the group matches;
14.7. A drawing of lots by the Organising Committee of CAF.
Applying rule 14.1 CAF considered only results of matches between Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone and discounted Egypt as the bottom team with 5 points. In that regard, Niger found themselves with 6 points, South Africa and Sierra Leone on 5 points each. Here, the problem is not the rule, or that South Africa should have played to win instead of monkeying around.
The issue is the order of things. Rule 14.1 should be down the line at 14.6, just above 14.7, drawing of lots. It is when all Group phase issues involving all participating teams have failed to separate teams in all statistical spheres, not just some teams. Disregarding other teams as the first step is sick and ridiculous. It was not going to be an issue to start with, had Bafana qualified and many would not be aware of the order of rules.
While each competition has rules governing its running, it must be limited to the organisational and logistical issues and not tactical aspects. That area should remain as universal as much as saying the team that scores most goals in any match wins it. Tempering with that becomes unfootball.
Let us not forget who CAF is and where they come from. CAF was the brainchild of North and Western Africa with the East bit coming in later. How many Southern African states have hosted or won the tournament? How many Southerners have won the African Player of the Year? How many times have countries south of the Sahara cried foul from bad officiating and getting raw deals in qualification to AFCON and FIFA World Cups?
You may be asking what has that to do with this. Everything. The rules have always been created to favour the North and West. That is why CAF were watching this one under the microscope. Any team that plays against the CAF favourite has more than 11 players against them. The conspiracy starts with the draws and goes all the way to the 90th minute – actually, injury time. Look back at all clubs from Southern Africa that have gone and suffered injustice against countries like Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria, Senegal and all Franco-Africans.
Orlando Pirates winning the Africa Champions League in 1995 and South Africa hosting and eventual victory in AFCON ’96 were huge blunders for CAF and all efforts are in place never to let that happen again. There shall not be CAF President from south of the equator and that is no error. It is by design. Issa Hayatou has been there and will be there until he expires. If he goes, he will have a successor ready just next door and the dynasty will, of course, be perpetual. CAF carries a lot of nations along wherever they go and that is why Africa ever fails in the FIFA World Cups.
The qualifications seldom reflect the actual state of affairs. Only on few occasions have these CAF elects maintained the status quo at the big stage but all the juicy details and junk in the trunk of CAF are a topic for another day.
Whatever happened to Bafana is water under the bridge, but my question resulting from my further lack of understanding of the game, is how South Africa are not going to AFCON 2012 at all. This is because of the accommodation of the best runners-up. Libya and Sudan won their right to go on this ticket, but they were not so close to the winners of their group as Bafana were in Group G. What, then, is the best