Africa's Epic Marathon of Football in 2012
Every year offers a new chapter of international football for nations to etch their stories on the playing field. Africa is no exception and no stranger to prestigious tournaments. But 2012 was unlike any year that the continent witnessed. An extraordinary journey that started with a preliminary match on an island nation ended with the continent welcoming a new country into its tournament.
Along the way, a tournament that featured some unfancied nations would see these nations make strides, notably the host nations and the eventual champions. Other countries endured challenging periods, particularly that of heavyweights like Senegal and Cameroon. What 2012 unfolded was a year that Africa enjoyed as one of its most prosperous years of football. The year began with one of football's most emotional triumphs and ended with even one nation achieving history in the process.
Destiny Has Smiled on Zambia
Gabon and Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. When the competition commenced, the most notable absentees included three-time defending champions Egypt, South Africa, Cameroon, Algeria, Nigeria. In their absence, three nations debuted at this edition, including Equatorial Guinea. At 151st in the FIFA Ranking, Equatorial Guinea was the lowest-ranked among all 16 countries. Botswana and Niger also debuted, the latter qualifying ahead of both South Africa and Egypt.
Destiny became a theme during the tournament, beginning with Equatorial Guinea defeating Libya on an 87th-minute goal from Javier Balboa. Four days later, Equatorial Guinea became the tournament's first quarterfinalist 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 dramatic circumstances against Morocco, with Bruno Zita Mbanangoye scoring on the final play eight minutes into stoppage time. The goal broke a 2-2 and came after Houssine Kharja equalized one minute into stoppage time with his second goal of the game. With victories over Tunisia and Niger, Gabon reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 1996.
Both co-hosts joined Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, and another former champion who emerged from the wilderness. Winners of the 1970 edition on home soil, Sudan last scored during the tournament in 1976, and the scoreless drought continued when it returned in 2008 after a 32-year absence. After Sudan lost 1-0 to Côte d'Ivoire, Mohamed Ahmed Bashir scored twice against Angola to snap the 36-year drought in a crucial 2-2 draw. Mudather El Tahir's also scored two goals four days later against Burkina Faso. Sudan won its first tournament game in 42 years, and the 2-1 victory allowed Sudan to reach the quarterfinals at Angola's expense on goal difference.
Zambia ended Sudan's run with a 3-0 victory to win its first quarterfinal match since 1996. The nation followed that result with an upset against the 2010 World Cup quarterfinalists Ghana. In its first final since 1994, Zambia faced Côte d'Ivoire in the final at Libreville, Gabon, where the city was the site of Zambia's most tragic event. In 1993, a plane crash near Libreville killed all 30 people on board ahead of a 1994 World Cup qualifier.
Zambia faced Côte d'Ivoire in the tournament final, and after 120 minutes, the match provided no scoring. For Côte d'Ivoire, it would be a tournament that saw the nation give up no goals in the six games. However, Côte d'Ivoire, seeking its first continental triumph since 1992, needed a penalty shootout to win the title. Each team converted its attempt for seven straight rounds, including 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 as the site of Zambia's saddest day became the site of Zambia's greatest triumph.
A World Cup Quest Begins
The 2012 edition marked the last time that the tournament would occur in even-number years to avoid clashing with other prestigious competitions. In earnest, an abbreviated qualification phase for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament for which South Africa replaced the original hosts Libya, began on Feb. 29, 2012. Some African countries struggled against some of Africa's emerging nations. Cameroon needed late goals to fend off Guinea-Bissau, while Togo needed the away goals tiebreaker to get past Kenya. However, Egypt suffered the most significant shock at the hands of the Central African Republic.
In June 2012, 40 nations began its quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Sudan thought they had avenged their loss earlier to Zambia with a 2-0 victory in Omdurman in a qualifying match. However, on Oct. 9, 2012, FIFA awarded Zambia a 3-0 win as a disciplinary committee ruled that Sudan's Saif Ali should have been ineligible to play in that June 2 match. Along with Sudan, Gabon and Burkina Faso also had 3-0 forfeit losses due to an ineligible player in their opening qualifiers. It would be Côte d'Ivoire and Egypt that had significant results during this month for World Cup qualifying.
Morocco hosted Côte d'Ivoire in Marrakech in an entertaining qualifier in which the hosts came back twice. With Morocco trailing 2-1 and looking to return to the World Cup, Hamza Abourazzouk scored 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, Mohamed Salah helped Egypt escape with victory courtesy of a stoppage-time goal as Egypt won 3-2.
After the World Cup qualifiers, 15 fixtures would determine participants at the upcoming 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Among the notable two-legged fixtures included Mali and Botswana (both nations met at the group stage of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations) and the North African derbies of Libya-Algeria and Ethiopia-Sudan. While not a traditional rivalry, Tunisia and Sierra Leone provided familiarity for the next nine months; the two nations would meet again during World Cup qualifying in 2013.
For veteran players of four countries, 2012 also marked opportunities to participate in the men's Olympic football tournament in Great Britain. He scored three goals for Morocco at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, despite his nation having an early exit. Kharja added an Olympic competition to his four trips to the Africa Cup of Nations. In its seventh Olympic football tournament, Morocco fought valiantly in a group that featured Spain, Japan, and Honduras. However, Morocco's only goals came in its opening 2-2 draw against Honduras, and the African nation exited the group stage.
Egypt was in its 11th tournament appearance, but first in 20 years. Egypt opted for experience, with Mohamed Aboutrika, Emad Moteab, and Ahmed Fathy all combined to earn for 241 caps for Egypt. Thanks to Aboutrika and Salah, Egypt advanced to its first quarterfinal in 28 years when it defeated Belarus 3-1.
Unlike the North African duo, Gabon and Senegal debutted in the Olympic tournament. Gabon featured most of its players from the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, including Aubameyang. Although Aubameyang provided Gabon with its first Olympic goal against Switzerland, Gabon exited the group stage with two draws.
Senegal needed a one-game playoff victory against Oman to qualify for the competition. When it played there, Senegal included two overage players in their roster, including Mohamed Diame. Another star emerged for Senegal - Papa Moussa Konate, scoring five goals during the tournament, including the tying goal against the United Arab Emirates to send Senegal into the quarterfinals. Senegal put up a brave showing before losing to eventual winners Mexico 4-2 in extra time.
Who Would Join South Africa?
Fifteen two-legged fixtures in qualifying for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations took place over five weeks in September and October. This stage saw many nations like Nigeria and Algeria return to the tournament after missing out on the 2012 edition. The Democratic Republic of the Congo secured its first tournament berth since 2006, with Dieumerci Mbokani scoring three goals over the two legs against Equatorial Guinea.
As was the case to win the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Zambia needed a penalty shootout to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. With aggregate tied at 1-1, Sunzu scored the winning goal once again as Zambia won 9-8 in the shootout in Kampala, Uganda. The result was painful for Uganda, who was looking for its first tournament appearance since 1978.
Also, having played in the 2012 edition, Morocco had a difficult time against Mozambique after losing in Maputo 2-0 in the first leg. But Morocco overturned that deficit in the second leg to win 4-0 in Marrakech. Just as home advantaged proved vital in reaching the 2012 edition, Niger overturned a 1-0 defeat to upset Guinea 2-0 home for a second consecutive appearance.
Finally, events marred the second leg of Côte d'Ivoire'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 Africa Cup of Nations and ended with Senegal playing its last meaningful game on home soil until nearly two years later.
An Historic Victory
Rebirth and a Meteoric Rise
In a year where surprises unfolded, one African nation continued its emergence from the wilderness. This nation began significant strides did so on Jan. 8, 2012. Before the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations kicked off, Sao Tome e Principe commenced qualifying for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
Sao Tome e Principe, having been unranked for years due to inactivity, hosted Lesotho in a preliminary match as it came two months after its played World Cup qualifiers against Congo. The games against Congo were the nation's first matches in eight years. Nevertheless, Sao Tome e Principe began with Jair Nunes scoring a third-minute penalty, enough for the country to notch its first victory since 2000.
Sao Tome e Principe's reward was a two-legged affair with Sierra Leone and almost managed another upset against Sierra Leone after winning 2-1 on Feb. 29, 2012. However, Sao Tome e Principe failed to defend a 3-1 aggregate lead as they allowed four goals in 23 minutes to lose 5-4 on aggregate. For their achievements, Sao Tome e Principe reached its highest-ever ranking (119th) in March 2012 to become the best mover for the month.
If Sao Tome e Principe's reemergence from the wilderness was terrific, then the Central African Republic had a meteoric rise. At one point in 2010, the Central African Republic ranked 202nd. With qualifying victories over Algeria and Tanzania, the Central African Republic cracked the top 100 and missed out on qualification for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.
In 2012, the Central African Republic proved that its rise was no fluke. On June 2, the Central African Republic won its first-ever World Cup qualifier, a 2-0 victory over Botswana in the nation's first World Cup qualifying game in 12 years, with both goals coming from Foxi Kethevoama. His third goal came in the second leg of an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Egypt later in the month that knocked out the seven-time champions.
The 1-1 draw against Egypt was the second leg of a qualifying leg that was initially the first leg (having been postponed from February due to the Port Said disaster). Two weeks earlier, the Central African Republic had pulled off 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 victory.
Only Burkina Faso stood between the Central African Republic and a shock berth. In September, the Central African Republic continued its impressive year after Vianney Mabide scored the only goal in the first leg. In October, the Central African Republic was up 2-0 on aggregate after Manga opened the scoring seven minutes into the second leg in Ouagadougou. Ranked 49th in the world at the time, the Central African Republic fought bravely to defend the lead, but Alain Traore proved decisive in this series with his two goals. Heading into extra time, the Central African Republic was still on course to reach the tournament on away goals. However, Traore's second goal came in stoppage time and denied the Central African Republic a shock qualification.
Despite the defeat, the Central African Republic had emerged at last.
Upset at Alexandria
Heartbreak at Ouagadougou
Upset in September
A Bite, A Long Return and FIFA's 209th Member
This nation had some notable players opt to represent other established nations and yet rejected the opportunity to represent the Cape Verde Islands, notably Sweden's Henrik Larsson and Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes. However, fortunes changed when 117th-ranked Cape Verde Islands held third-ranked Portugal to a scoreless draw ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
Cape Verde Islands missed out on the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations but ended 2011 with its highest ranking. Poised to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, the Cape Verde Islands needed to overcome Cameroon. For how it ended 2011, the Cape Verde Islands was in crisis after consecutive losses in its opening World Cup qualifiers. But the Cape Verde Islands pulled off the 2-0 upset against Cameroon in the first leg. Just like the Central African Republic, Cape Verde Islands extended its aggregate lead during the second leg. Though it eventually lost 2-1 in the second leg, the Cape Verde Islands secured its qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations.
At the time, the Cape Verde Islands was the smallest nation to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. The reward would include playing in the opening game against the hosts at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium. If Cape Verde Islands' qualification surprised people, Ethiopia's achievement was resounding.
It was not long ago when FIFA expelled Ethiopia during the 2010 World Cup qualifying. Getting back to prominence was crucial, and in 2011, Ethiopia lost once in 11 matches. Improvement continued during June 2012, which included a 1-1 draw away to South Africa to open its 2014 World Cup qualification campaign.
Following a 2-0 victory against the Central African Republic, Ethiopia knocked out Benin on an Adane Girma away goal in Cotonou. Only Sudan stood between Ethiopia and the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. Though it lost 5-3 in the first leg in Omdurman, Ethiopia had the vital road goals ahead of the second leg, which remained scoreless for an hour until two goals in four minutes decided the outcome. Girma and Saladin Said scored the vital goals to send Ethiopia back to the Africa Cup of Nations after a 31-year absence.
As many African nations continued writing new chapters, one country began theirs when in February 2012. The Confederation of African Football welcomed South Sudan as its 54th nation, and it hosted its first official match on July 10, 2012, against Uganda.
Despite playing most of the match with a man advantage, South Sudan came from behind twice to Uganda. Richard Justin's penalty canceled out Caesar Okhuti's opener. James Joseph Moga, the scorer of South Sudan's' first ever-goal, tied the match after Julius Ogwang put Uganda up 2-1. South Sudan would also participate in its first-ever CECAFA Cup, a tournament dedicated to east African nations. However, South Sudan's journey ended with three losses and without a goal.
Over 12 months, 2012 saw Africa at its busiest and helped set the stage for 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 take Africa and football seriously.
First Leg Epic in Omdurman
The Wait is Over...At Long Last
- Africa Cup of Nations Memories: When Sudan scored their first AFCON goal in 32 years
Of the eight quarterfinalists from the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, Sudan was one few even expected to reach this stage. Relive the goal that broke a lengthy drought for a former African champion.
- Zambia give Africa Cup of Nations a fairytale ending
When Zambia beat the Ivory Coast in Sunday's final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon it meant redemption for a football team and a nation. It also gave football one of its greatest ever stories.
- 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