2019 AFCON Qualifiers: Three things we learned from Matchday 2
Matchday two of six 2019 AFCON qualifiers fixtures is done and dusted. Yes, as anticipated, we were not robbed of thrills and spills. With 48 of the 54 African countries in action this past weekend, you would bet that millions had a chance to raise their flag and back their heroes. Here is what we picked up from the action, three things we made sure no one would miss.
They are actually no favorites; AFCON is as tough as it gets!
Time and time again, we continue to see proof of why the CAF Africa Cup of Nations is perhaps the most interesting and fiercely contested tournament in the whole world. Take nothing away from the FIFA World Cup or the mighty English Premier League, there is just something unique about the passion and voices of a populace from less known communities being given a chance to be heard on a grand stage. Something about millions of people momentarily forgetting about the tough and seemingly impossible journey of building stronger public institutions, a journey that started in the colonial era dating back to the 1960s, to focus on football.
Here is a static for you, 14 of the 24 matches played over the weekend ended in a stalemate. That is 28 nations holding down their own and refusing to lose. That’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears shed to grind a result. More interestingly, the highly ranked nations who would be easily considered favorites weren’t having it easy. Clarence Seedorf’s debut as Cameroonian coach got off to a scary start as the defending AFCON champions scored a last minute equaliser to draw 1-1 away at Islanders, Comoros to save their blushes.The star studded black stars of Ghana look to continue their downward spiral after losing out 1-0 to Kenya in a famous match whose result sent tongues wagging, everywhere. The 2018 FIFA World Cup boys, Senegal learnt a tough lesson in Antananarivo as they drew 2-2 with lowly ranked Madagascar. Yes, Egypt did have it easy with a 6-0 thrashing of Niger and so did Morocco and Nigeria both winning 3-0 against Malawi and Seychelles, but it should be mentioned that all these three lost their opening matches and were in desperate mode to save their 2019 AFCON hopes heading into the weekend. It's not as easy as it seems.
Do not count anyone out yet, surprises are the order of the day whenever the African nations go to battle for the most coveted prize on the continent.
Home support is actually a thing
Now, home crowds cheering on their mates matters everywhere and it seems to be the key ingredient to all the upsets and “what on earth!” moments we witnessed over the weekend. The victories that headlined the weekend were all recorded on home soil, including some astonishing stalemates. Kenya saw off Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey and his Ghanaian teammates in Nairobi, Mauritania cruised to a 2-0 triumph over the 2013 finalists, Burkina Faso on home turf and so did the other guns who held onto unlikely draws against teams considered to be “favorites.” We are talking about Comoros, Madagascar, Namibia against 2012 AFCON Champions, Zambia and the list goes on and on to the Gambia and Lesotho. The unfortunate incident were at least one person died and 32 others injured in Madagascar as a result of a stampede prior to the Senegal match when supporters rushed to grab seats in an already full stadium further proves the point on how much people invest to back their heroes. You would be perfectly justified for suggesting that home crowds played a key role in deciding the matchday 2 fixtures.
Mauritania in dreamland
Not many people have had about the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, the eleventh largest country in Africa in terms of physical size in North West Africa partly bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Sahara Desert ( interesting tourist destination if you ask me). There is another African country called Mauritius in the Indian Ocean which on the contrary happens to be the tiniest. The Les Mourabitones reached an all time high of 81st on the FIFA rankings in August 2017, climbing up a dizzying 23 places. They have not looked back ever since and the hard work seem to be paying off as they keenly look to secure their first ever AFCON finals qualification. Even their gaffer, Corentin Martins speaking to FIFA.com, hardly gave his team a chance heading into the tournament but have now won all their opening two matches, sitting pretty at the top of a group also occupied by Angola, Botswana, and the Stallions of Burkina Faso.
"Our goal is to reach the finals, even if we're now in a tough group. Along with Burkina Faso, we also face Angola, who are a great football nation. And I also rate Botswana as one of Africa's better teams, even if we beat them on their own soil. My goal as a coach is to get my team in shape to win as many games as possible and why not qualify for the tournament as well?" - Corentin Martins, Former Auxerre Player and Head coach of Mauritania
Here is a full list of the results and tables from matchday 2. What did you also learn? Let us know in the comment box below.