There was drama, controversy, excitement and plenty more besides in the second leg of Africa’s World Cup playoffs on what was a mixed night for Arab teams. Here are five things we learned.
1. Another painful night for Egypt against Senegal
For the second time in less than two months, Egypt lost a massive game to Senegal on penalties. Had things gone just a little differently, the Pharaohs would now be African champions and going to the World Cup but now they are neither.
A first leg 1-0 lead was wiped out after just three minutes in Dakar and then we had 117 minutes of tight and tense football with Senegal making most of the running.
It was already tense. Egypt claimed their team bus had been pelted with bottles, there were banners in the stadium insulting Mohamed Salah and then, of course, were the lasers. The image of Salah taking his penalty kick looking like The Hulk due to all the green lights that were shining in his face, will be the defining image of the match, and it is understandable that Egypt are unhappy with everything that happened. There has been an official complaint launched.
In the end, three Egyptian players missed from the spot and Senegal are going to the World Cup.
2. Morocco make light of absences and book Qatar spot
At the moment, all is well in Moroccan football after the Atlas Lions defeated DR Congo 4-1 on the night and 5-2 on aggregate. For once, the fallout between European stars Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui and the coach Vahid Halilhodzic is not the main topic of conversation.
Two enforced first-half substitutions, including the withdrawal of goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, raised the tension level but once Taris Tissoudali, who scored the away goal in the 1-1 draw in Kinshasa, made it 2-0 deep into first-half injury time, there only looked to be one winner.
In the end, Morocco were simply too good for the visitors and book a World Cup spot for the sixth time. Once the celebrations stop then it is to be hoped that Halilhodzic finds a way to reconcile with some of his European stars as the opposition in Qatar is going to be tougher.
3. Algeria’s terrible year cruelly continues
Algeria should be at the World Cup and were the better team against Cameroon yet missed out to a last-gasp goal that took the tie to 2-2 but sent the Indomitable Lions through on away goals. After a 1-0 win in the first leg, Algeria were strong favorites to qualify even after a mistake from goalkeeper Raïs M'Bolhi helped the visitors score midway through the first half.
The hosts had chances to win, however. There were two goals ruled out for offside and handball and a goalkeeper in excellent form. Yet they were ahead after 118 minutes thanks to Ahmed Touba. Qatar was just minutes away but Cameroon threw everyone forward and eventually got the all-important goal.
Despite boasting players such as Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani, the North African powerhouse will have to watch the World Cup from afar this November. This comes just weeks after the team crashed out of the African Nations Cup at the first round in January despite arriving as defending champions. It has been a dreadful 2022 so far but this exit, in the last second of a two-year qualification campaign, was cruel.
4. Tunisia’s defense sees them through
It didn’t get many headlines but Tunisia’s 0-0 draw at home to Mali was enough to see them through. That was because the Carthage Eagles had won the first leg 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Moussa Sissoko. Fans in Tunis didn’t care that none of their players scored in 180 minutes of action and won’t care that it wasn’t pretty.
Prior to the game, coach Jalel Kadri, who replaced Mondher Kebaier after the African Cup of Nations, warned that the home leg would be more difficult than the away leg in Bamako. And so it proved, with the visitors going close in the opening seconds and having a fifth minute goal ruled out, just, for offside. In the end Mali, looking for a first World Cup appearance just could not find a way through the well-organized Tunisian defense and while they didn’t really look like conceding, it was all over.
There were plenty of tears, from both sides, at the end. Tunisia have a lot of work to do in the coming months but, for now, there is delight at the fact that their name goes in the hat for the World Cup draw.
5. Already coaching changes, could be more to come
After elimination at the hands of Senegal, Carlos Queiroz announced that he would not be staying on as head coach of Egypt. His style of play was not that popular among neutrals but had two penalty shootouts been won instead of lost then he would have delivered the African Cup of Nations and a World Cup berth.
“It’s time for me to leave the leadership of Egypt to someone else,” he said. “Egypt will start preparing for the upcoming tournaments as well as the qualifying campaign for the 2026 World Cup.”
While there are no major tournaments imminent, the federation will soon have to start thinking about who comes next. Whether to go local or foreign is just one of the questions that need to be answered.
And then there is Djamel Belmadi. He led Algeria to the 2019 African title but failure at the recent AFCON and now in World Cup qualification may bring an end to his four-year tenure in charge of one of Africa’s biggest teams. While it may be time for a change, the last-minute elimination, which saw the coach sink to his knees with his head in his hands, may be too painful to make any decisions about the future just yet.