Nigeria, Ethiopia reach WCQ playoffs
African champion Nigeria and surprise package Ethiopia reached the final playoffs for the World Cup after winning last-round group games on Saturday.
Burkina Faso also kept its World Cup hopes alive by beating Gabon and overtaking Republic of Congo in the race to make the decisive 10-team ties starting next month. Five teams will eventually emerge from the playoffs in October and November to represent Africa in Brazil next year.
Nigeria saw off Malawi 2-0 in Calabar through goals early in the second half from Emmanuel Emenike and Victor Moses, ending a tense standoff between the countries in the leadup to the game. Malawi coach Tom Saintfiet reported Nigeria rival Stephen Keshi to FIFA over alleged racist comments ahead of the winner-take-all Group F matchup.
Ethiopia won 2-1 over Central African Republic in neutral Republic of Congo to qualify from Group A and eliminate 2010 World Cup host South Africa, which beat Botswana 4-1 in vain. Ethiopia's winner came, ironically, from Minyahile Beyene. Minyahile was the player whose presence in an earlier qualifier while suspended led to Ethiopia forfeiting a game and having its progression put on hold.
African Cup runner-up Burkina Faso leapfrogged Republic of Congo with a precious Prejuce Nakoulma winner to beat Gabon 1-0. Republic of Congo's 2-2 draw with Niger in Niamey proved costly as it surrendered the qualifying position from Group E to the Burkinabes, whose memorable year continued after they surprisingly made the African Cup final in February.
Top-ranked African team Ivory Coast had already qualified for the playoffs before a 1-1 draw with Morocco in Abidjan, where Didier Drogba hit an 83rd-minute penalty for a draw for the Ivorians. Ghana qualified on Friday, while Egypt and Algeria also are already through before their final group games on Tuesday.
Sierra Leone beat Equatorial Guinea 3-2, Gambia beat Tanzania 2-0 and Angola won 4-1 over Liberia in games that had no effect on the teams going through to the decisive playoffs.
Tunisia and Cape Verde, Cameroon and Libya and Senegal and Uganda are in contention for the remaining three places in the playoffs.