It might have been a quiet weekend on the domestic front but there were certainly plenty of internationals to sate our football appetite. While the qualifications for 2012's European Championships got most of the attention, we were also treated to some Africa Cup of Nations qualifying action, and the round of games that finished this weekend saw Botswana seal a spot for the very first time in their history. They became the first non-host team to secure a spot in the 2012 finals, held by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, after beating Chad 1-0 in N'Djamena on Saturday, but there were nineteen other matches this weekend. Let's dig in.
Cape Verde 4-2 Liberia
The hosts came into the match at the head of Group A with four points out of two games played and went up early thanks to a first half brace from Heldon Ramos and a goal by Barbano. Liberia had pulled one back by half time, but they quickly conceded in the second half and Al Hussein Keita's 84th minute strike was merely a consolation for the visitors, who remain glued to the bottom of the group with a solitary point from three games.
Mali 1-0 Zimbabwe
Mali kept pace with Cape Verde courtesy of Cheick Diabete's 22nd minute strike. Zimbabwe had been undefeated in the qualifiers, drawing their matches against both Liberia and Cape Verde, but the visitors just couldn't break through against Mali's defence. The hosts extend their cushion in second place to four points, leaving Zimbabwe just above Liberia with two.
Madagascar 1-1 Guinea
Madagascar earned their first points of the qualifying rounds thanks to holding leaders Guinea to a surprise 1-1 draw at home. Yvan Rajoarimanana gave the Malagasy a first half lead but they couldn't hold on for the win as Mamadou Bah gave the visitors a share of the spoils. Guinea remain top of the group, but have now lost their perfect record.
Nigeria 4-0 Ethiopia
Nigeria were fresh off an away defeat against Guinea and needed to make a statement against poor Ethiopia, who ended up well and truly hammered when all was said and done in Abuja. Peter Utaka got things started on the right foot for the Super Eagles by notching a goal barely thirty seconds after the kickoff, and three second half goals made up for some profligacy in the first half and meant the rout was well and truly on. Utaka added his second shortly after the interval before a late brace by Real Zaragoza's Ike Uche, who was making his comeback from a long injury layout, made it 4-0. Nigeria close the gap on Guinea with the win, and Ethiopia somehow stay in third place despite having conceded eight goals in three matches.
Mozambique 0-2 Zambia
Zambia did what Libya couldn't in beating Mozambique in Maputo. James Chamanga's 18th minute goal set the visitors well on their way before Emmanuel Makuya made sure of the points with an injury time finish to make the score 2-0. Zambia go top of the group with six points, but with Libya scheduled to play on Monday against the lowly Comoros Islanders and within striking distance of first place, their place may not be secure for very long.
Tanzania 2-1 Central African Republic
A stirring comeback saw Tanzania earn victory over Central African Republic despite falling behind to a second minute goal by Vianney Mabide. It took the hosts more than an hour to draw level through Shaban Nditi, and they left the winner late too, a 90th minute goal by Haruna Shamte off a corner kick to take Tanzania even on points with Central African Republic at the top of the table.
Algeria 1-0 Morroco
Napoli midfielder Hassan Yebda converted a fifth minute penalty to give Algeria a key win over local rivals Morocco. The hotly contested derby ended with the hosts level on points with Morocco - and in fact with everyone else, as Group D now has three teams with identical records. Only goal difference separates the sides: Morocco in fourth are at -1, Algeria and Tanzania are both at zero, and Central African Republic lead that way with... +1. Tight.
Senegal 1-0 Cameroon
Senegal keep their 100% record and their place at the summit of Group E, but it was a very close run thing as Cameroon kept their hosts at bay for most of the match. West Ham United striker Demba Ba finally made the breakthrough in the 91st minute, condemning Cameroon to a 1-0 defeat. Although Senegal emerged with a victory, it was a far cry from the 7-0 thrashing they had doled out to Mauritius the last time out - although Demba Ba scored in injury time there too, so I guess there were some similarities.
Congo DR 3-0 Mauritius
Prior to this match, Mauritius had scored one goal and conceded ten in two games. Congo, meanwhile, were coming off an encouraging away draw against Cameroon. To call the result a foregone conclusion would be, I suspect, entirely accurate. Two penalties awarded to the home side put the game beyond doubt, with Lomana LuaLua and Yves Diba Ilunga both scoring their spot kicks sandwiched around a goal by Zola Matumona. Congo move up to second place, tied with Cameroon, while Mauritius languish at the foot of the table with a goal differential of -12.
Burkina Faso 4-0 Namibia
Alain Traore scored a hattrick as Burkina Faso thrashed Namibia to cement their position at the top of three team Group F*.Richard Gariseb scored an own goal to add to hapless Namibia's misery - they're bottom of the group with two losses and a -6 goal differential.
*Mauritania withdrew from qualification due to a lack of funding.
South Africa 1-0 Egypt
South Africa beat holders Egypt in Johannesburg to continue Egypt's miserable start to the qualifiers after winning the past three tournaments. The hosts left it very late, requiring a 93rd minute strike from Katlego Mphela, but that won't matter one whit as the Bafana Bafana go top of Group G with seven points. Egypt, meanwhile, have just one point from three matches, and have a five-point deficit to make up over three matches if they want any hope of qualifying for the finals to defend their crown.
Niger 3-1 Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone suffered their first defeat of the campaign in Niger as the Mena came from behind to win 3-1. Although Alhassan Bangura gave the visitors a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute, goals by Issoufou Dante, Modibo Sidibe and Kamilou Daoudain the last 25 minutes denied Sierra Leone what could have been a massively important win as well as keeping Niger in contention for a first-ever finals berth.
Rwanda 3-1 Burundi
First half goals from Jean-Claude Iranzi (Rwanda) and Olivier Bahati (Burundi) cancelled each other out before a 70th minute penalty converted by Cannes forward Elias 'Baby' Uzamukunda gave the Wasps a 2-1 lead. They managed to extend their lead in the 90th minute through Eric Gasana, the victory bringing Rwanda their first points of the qualifying campaign. Burundi failed to capitalise on what had been an encouraging performance in their previous match against the Ivory Coast, and find themselves at the bottom of the group with just one point from three matches.
Cote d'Ivoire 2-1 Benin
Chelsea striker Didier Drogba bailed out his side after a goalkeeping error gave Benin's Squirrels a shock 1-0 lead in Accra (the game had been moved from Abidjan thanks to the unstable political situation in the Cote d'Ivoire). Drogba's spectacular equaliser in the 45th minute ensured that the Elephants wouldn't be heading into the break behind, and he was on hand again to turn the ball home in the 76th minute, maintaining the hosts' 100% record at the top of Group H and putting them on the verge of automatic qualification.
Congo 0-3 Ghana
A star-studded Ghana squad made very short work out of third place Congo, going 2-0 up within the first half hour thanks to goal by Prince Tagoe and Dominic Adiyah. Sunderland midfielder Sully Muntari put the result beyond doubt in the 68th minute, but in truth as soon as Tagoe scored the first goal in the fifth minute the game was more or less decided. Muntari's goal, however, ensures that Ghana lead Group I on goal difference.
Sudan 3-0 Swaziland
With a record of played two, lost two, Swaziland weren't expected to put up much of a first against a Sudan team whose last match was an away draw in Accra. They didn't disappoint. Sudan's Mohammed Bisha grabbed a brace with a goal in each half before Mohammed al-Tahir added the third in injury time. Sudan are now virtually neck and neck with Ghana's Black Stars at the top of the group and it looks as though it'll be a straight-up dogfight between those two teams for the automatic qualifying slot. With Ghana yet to visit Khartoum, Sudan look as though they're in with a fighting chance of pulling off an upset to top the group.
Kenya 2-1 Angola
An injury time strike by Inter Milan's McDonald Mariga led Kenya to a stirring comeback in Nairobi. Manucho struck in the 19th minute for Angola, and the hosts didn't manage to respond until the second half, eventually equalising through James Mohammed shortly before the hour mark. The stage was set for someone to become a hero, and Mariga didn't disappoint, taking Kenya up to second place in the group.
Uganda 1-0 Guinea-Bissau
David Obua gave Uganda a vital win in Bissua as the Cranes jumped out to a three point lead at the top of Group J. The visitors, who were apparently undaunted by a disappointing 0-0 draw in Nairobi the last time out, now have seven points and look in very good position to qualify outright for the finals, especially with first seed Angola four points behind them.
Malawai 1-0 Togo
Togo have been eliminated from the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations for the second time, but at least this was done on the football pitch. The side had been barred from entering qualification thanks to a draconian ruling by CAF after they abandoned the 2010 tournament following a fatal attack in their team bus, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport had reinstated them. They'll have no such luck this time, as a return of three points from six games puts them well out of reach of second place. Moses Chavula's 18th minute goal merely sealed their fate.
Chad 0-1 Botswana
Botswana were on the verge of qualifying for the finals for the first time in team history, and only a trip to lowly Chad stood in their way. As ever, the role of breaking down the opposition fell to Jerome Ramatlhakwane, who managed to deliver his fifth goal of the qualification campaign - and probably the most important of his career - in the 50th minute. Botswana held on for the win, and have compiled a record of 5-1-0 despite only scoring seven goals in six games. More importantly, they're the first team outside of the host countries to qualify for the finals!