It's murder in Group of Death
The so-called Group of Death at the African Nations Cup lived up to its billing on Tuesday as both matches went down to the wire.
In the end, Nigeria finished top of group D after coming from behind to beat Senegal 2-1, while Zimbabwe deservedly beat Ghana 2-1 but still finished out of the money—losing out to the Senegalese by the latter being better off by one goal on goal difference.
However, they ended the third of the five African World Cup qualifiers’ interest in the tournament as Ghana—appropriately dressed in black—followed Togo and Angola on an earlier-than-expected flight home.
Nigeria will play champions Tunisia in the quarters, while Senegal—finalists in 2002—will face group C table-toppers Guinea in their last-eight match-up.
At one point it had looked like Tunisia coach Roger Lemerre would face the unpalatable reminder of his 2002 World Cup debacle with France by playing Senegal—who beat them in the first match in South Korea—in the last eight.
Souleymane Camara had put the Senegalese ahead before two goals by Inter Milan striker Obafemi Martins gave the Super Eagles victory and a perfect nine points from their three matches.
“I am very happy to score two goals in such a big game,” he said.
“I would like to thank my coach for standing by me in such a big game,” added Martins, who had yet to score in the tournament before the match.
Nigeria coach Austin Eguavoen thanked his lucky stars.
“It was a dramatic finish because before this game ... all four teams had a chance of reaching the last eight.
“However, we could have been 2-0 down at half-time, but we turned it around in the second half and we deserved to win in the end,” said Eguavoen, who played in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup finals.
His Senegalese counterpart, Abdoulaye Sarr, laid the blame for the defeat firmly at the door of veteran goalkeeper Tony Sylva.
“We dominated 80 minutes of the match and then a schoolboy goalkeeping error drained the confidence of the whole team,” he said.
Goals by Cephas Chimedza and Benjani gave Zimbabwe victory over the lifeless Black Stars—a late goal by Baba Adamu was not enough to salvage their pride.
However, the Zimbabweans were left distraught as a last-minute goal by Joel Lupahla was ruled out for marginal offside.
Zimbabwe coach Charles Mhlauri was dejected.
“We are very disappointed,” he said. “We could have qualified, but we were unlucky. We tried to score the third goal.
“The referee disallowed one and if it had been allowed I don’t think they would have scored [Adamu’s late goal] and we would have gone through,” added the dreadlocked coach.
Mhlauri, though, was honest enough about where they had let it slip. “We lost our chance to qualify in the opening defeat [2-0] by Senegal,” he said.
Ghana handler Ratomir Dujkovic was phlegmatic and even smiled at times after the match.
“We were under pressure, we could have qualified with victory or a draw, but Zimbabwe did not have that pressure and played well,” said the Serb. “We did not play well, but this has nothing to do with the World Cup as it is still a long way away.
“We were missing several key players, after all [including Chelsea’s injured Michael Essien]. We will now prepare for the World Cup.”
There were tears, though, in Ghana. “I phoned my wife and she said everybody was crying in Ghana,” said their injured captain, Samuel Kuffour.—Sapa-AFP