The South African football team should not be allowed to sing. Last year, when they belted out a tune while walking into Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium to play Uruguay in a World Cup group match, they lost 3-0. On Saturday, when they entertained the crowd with a song to celebrate their goalless draw against Sierra Leone in Nelspruit, thinking that would be enough to qualify for the African Nations' Cup (ANC), they were wrong. Embarrassingly wrong.
Going into the final round of qualifiers, South Africa needed to beat Sierra Leone and hope Egypt's youngsters would overcome Niger in order for Bafana Bafana to qualify for next year's ANC. Nothing less than victory, and a favour, would have seen South Africa through to the continental showpiece but when Egypt were comfortably leading Niger, Bafana Bafana thought a draw would be enough.
South Africa coach Pitso Mosimane decided to beef up defensively and introduced midfielders Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Oupa Manyisa and instructed his men to guard goal, not go for it. The draw would earn South Africa a point, which would give them a total of nine, the same number as Niger and Sierra Leone. With a goal difference of +2, South Africa were under the impression that they would qualify.
But, CAF have their own regulations which govern how to decide between teams who finish on equal points in a group. Rule 14.1 states: The team with the "greater number of points obtained in the matches between the concerned teams" will go through. Simply put, that means that the first determinate is the head-to-head record between teams that are level on points.
So results against Egypt would not be taken into account in a mini-league and since Niger registered wins over both South Africa and Sierra Leone, they had more points (six) and went through. Complicated, but not impossible, to understand.
South Africa has a literacy rate of 88%, well above Niger's 28.7%, Sierra Leone's 38% or Egypt's 66.4% but still, they failed to read the rules and were baffled when they were told they had missed out on the tournament. South Africa started off confused, then irate, then despairing and then just plain spoilt brat loser-ish when they decided to appeal to CAF.
"We believe that the team finishing top of the log at the end of the competition is automatically determined at the end of 90 minutes play, and that the second place is determined by the other rules." CAF would do well to tell the South African Football Association (SAFA) that they can believe Johannesburg is in North Africa and the Springboks will win the Rugby World Cup if they choose to, but it will not matter because there are rules, not beliefs, in place to determine who qualifies for the ANC.
"Those rules are wrong," Kirsten Nematandani, SAFA President defiantly told South African television channel eNews. Over the course of the next few days, SAFA will hopefully come up with more coherent arguments. Already, they have said their superior goal difference should count for something, an argument that could win them friends in some quarters, and that CAF should design more straightforward rules, a line of attack that will see them gain even more supporters. It may cause a change somewhere down the line, but it's unlikely to make a difference now. Or at the CAF Under-23 Championship later this year, the competition which determines who will participate in the Olympics, or for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. It's of small consolation for South Africa that they automatically qualify for the 2013 ANC, as hosts.
Nigeria were the other big name to fail to make it to the tournament. They drew 2-2 with Guinea in Abuja, causing home fans to vent their anger at the team. The action in the match only started in the second half when Guinea took the lead but, with six minutes left on the clock, Nigeria were leading 2-1. Guinea equalised just before the final whistle with an Ibrahima Traore goal. Nigerian fans went on to pelt the team bus with any object they could find. The Super Eagles will not appear at the continental competition for the first time since 1996, prompting calls for coach Samson Siasa's head.
Chaos ensued all round when striker Peter Odemwingie, who made his return to the national side, was quoted in local paper's as blaming a prophet, TB Joshua, for making a negative prediction for the side. Odemwingie denied making the statements and used his Twitter account to quote verses from The Bible about no man being an island. Siasa said sorry to the Nigerian public, saying his team did their best. "We want to apologise to all Nigerians. We have not qualified for the Nations Cup and we take responsibility as a team," Siasia said. "We did our best, we dominated the game, we created chances, but we failed to take our chances and we gave up a last minute goal."
Here's a look at the other groups and who made it through to the tournament next year:
Mali drew 2-2 with Liberia to qualify top of the group. Cape Verde's 2-1 in over Zimbabwe put them on equal points with Mali, but Mali go through with a better head-to-head record. Zimbabwe have lodged a complaint with FIFA, saying they believe the Mali match was fixed. A newspaper in Liberia reported that a delegation had been to the country to fix the match, although no details were given. Zimbabwe said they would play their fixture against Cape Verde "under protest," and await FIFA and CAF's response to their grievance.
Guinea qualified after their 2-2 draw with Nigeria.
Zambia and Libya played out a goalless draw and both teams will advance to the tournament, Zambia as group winners and Libya as second best runners-up with 12 points from their six matches.
Libya's qualification is particularly noteworthy because they only played one match at home, due to the ongoing revolution in their country. The uprising has had a direct impact on their football team, with one player expelled for expressing negative thoughts about the rebels and others refusing to play in the new white kit until the country has been liberated. Their coach, Brazil's Manuel Paqueta, has reportedly not been paid in six months, but continues to lead the team. They declared their draw, and subsequent qualification, a direct result of their 39-year-old goalkeeper Samir Aboud's athletic keeping. Aboud, in turn, dedicated the achievement to his country. "My team-mates and I dedicate our qualification to all Libyans - to our revolution," he said.
Zambia topped the group with four wins and see this tournament as their best chance at victory on the big stage, as the finals will be missing many continental heavyweights. However, in the aftermath of their win, players have called for coach Dario Bonetti to be dismissed, telling the Lusaka Times that he failed to inspire them. The players, who asked to remain anonymous, said they only reached the tournament because of their collective efforts. "After realising that the coach was not taking us anywhere, we took it upon ourselves to ensure we qualify for the Africa Cup. It is also important to appreciate the input of assistant coach Honour Janza," one of them said.
Morocco beat Tanzania 3-1 to seal their place at the ANC while the Central African Republic went down 2-0 to Algeria to end their dream of qualifying for the tournament.
Senegal had already qualified and beat bottom placed Mauritius 2-0 in a dead rubber. Cameroon, who were not in contention for the tournament, managed a 3-2 win over DRC, which counted for nothing.
Burkina Faso drew with Gambia 1-1 in a match that had no impact on qualification, with Burkina Faso awaiting FIFA's response on an ineligible player before rubber stamping their tickets to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
South Africa's sour grapes will mean nothing because Niger are on their way to ANC for the first time.
Ivory Coast had already qualified and the Toure brothers both found the back of the net in their 2-1 win over Burundi, denying the small nation any chance of sneaking through. Rwanda beat Benin 1-0 in a match that had no impact on the group.
Asamoah Gyan and John Mensah gave Ghana a 2-0 win over Sudan, but both teams advance to the ANC. Ghana top the group and Sudan are best runners-up with 13 points. Ghana, like Zambia, see this as an ideal opportunity to push for continental glory and their FA president, Kwesi Nyantekyie, has demanded a Black Stars triumph. "From 2008 when we won bronze we improved in 2010 by winning silver so it is just a matter of course that we are favourites for gold n 2012," he said.
Coach Goran Stevanovic was pleased with the way his team performed, especially in the uncomfortable heat, which soared to over 40 degrees Celsius. "They were not intimidated by the weather, by the capacity crowd cheering for Sudan and by the fact that they were playing away from home," he said. "If the boys continue on this note, I think we will go places in the future."
Uganda and Kenya played to a goalless draw, allowing Angola, who beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0, to qualify. Uganda needed a victory to go through and their failure to do so places pressure on their Scottish coach Bobby Williamson, who said the match would be a defining one for his career. Williamson is contracted to the Ugandan team until the 2014 World Cup and said he would like to see out his tenure.
GROUP K: Botswana were already through and Tunisia joined them after a 2-0 win over Togo. Malawi could have gone through, had they beaten Chad away, but they only managed a 2-2 draw. Tunisia's qualification allows coach Sami Trabelsi to keep his job, in accordance with his goals-based contract.