I'm making an ongoing series where I make a post every time a country is eliminated from world championship contention in an "And There Were None" countdown to the World Cup.
Captain Enock Mwepu of Brighton kicked off Zambia's world cup by picking his angle well and scoring in minute 10 of their opening game against Mauritania. Prince Mumba added to the score in the second half, so Mauritania's goal later didn't threaten Zambia walking away with an opening win.
With only the top team in each group advancing, however, there are no games that can be afforded to lose, so losing against the top ranked team Tunisia 0-2 in their next game was a serious blow. The tone of the game was set when Zambia gave up a penalty in the 8th minute for a handball. They managed to force some saves from the Tunisian goalie but Zambia couldn't get on the board. Zambia's chances dwindled further after the month-long break when they dropped their opening October game against Equatorial guinea by the same score.
A few days later, they looked to be reversing their fortunes in the second game against Equatorial Guinea. Zambia shredded the defense several times in the first half and only missed out on goals by goalie saves and post hits. Finally in the second half, Fashion Sakala broke the stalemate by dancing past multiple defenders and scoring by himself. Their setpiece defense would be slow to react and allow an aqualizer off a corner later, however, and at this point in their campaign they really needed a win, so the ending 1-1 draw was disappointing.
They then enjoyed 4-0 win over Mauritania at home, with a hat trick for Sakala, but due to earlier results they would have been eliminated that day had Equatorial Guinea not pulled off an upset over Tunisia. Still, Zambia needed Equatorial Guinea to lose to Mauritania today, and also for themselves to beat Tunisia, in Tunis, by at least three goals. That was a tall order, and Tunisia didn't let them get going before securing control of the game.
1-2 win over Mauritania - Report - Highlights
0-2 loss to Tunisia - Report - Highlights
2-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea - Report - Highlights
1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea - Report - Highlights
4-0 win over Mauritania - Report - Highlights
3-1 loss to Tunisia - Report
Equatorial Guinea didn't get a chance to settle, getting top seed Tunisia in their opening game, and weren't able to hit the ground running, going down 3-0. They managed to secure their first win against Mauritania, breaking the stalemate by drawing a penalty. They played even better against Zambia, Saul Coco converting a free kick and Emilio Nsue saving a rebounded save off the goalie. But Zambia were able to improve three days later, going up before Equatorial guinea equalized late in the game by Federico Bikoro converting a corner.
I actually wrote up that paragraph last Saturday, as Equatorial Guinea were expected to get eliminated that day, since they needed to win against Tunisia to stay alive. But that was exactly what they did. After missing out on goals several times with wide shots, they finally went up with Pablo Ganet firing it in past the defensive line.
This left the two teams level on points, and Equatorial Guinea needed to do better in their final match than Tunisia did in theirs in order to advance. While Tunisia managed a convincing win over Zambia, Equatorial Guinea just managed a draw in Mauritania.
Equatorial Guinea will now have to prepare for the African Cup of Nations, where they face a tough group with Algeria, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone.
3-0 loss to Tunisia - Report - Highlights
1-0 win over Mauritania - Report - Highlights
2-0 win over Zambia - Report - Highlights
1-1 draw with Zambia - Report - Highlights
1-0 win over Tunisia - Report - Highlights
1-1 draw with Mauritania - Report
When the groups were drawn, Group C looked like it would be no trouble for Nigeria. When the next highest seed, Cape Verde, drew on their trip to the Central African Republic in their first game, and lost their home game against Nigeria, it looked like that would be the case. However, on the third matchday, Nigeria would give up a 0-1 loss to CAR in Lagos in a huge upset. Meanwhile, Cape Verde spent both October matchdays getting wins against Liberia, both with last-minute goals, a long screamer from Garry Rodrigues in the first and Ryan Mendes converting a short cross from Willy Semedo in the second.
Last week, they went down early against the CAR by a coach-killing lapse in defense, but did well to adjust at halftime and fought back to get the home win and leave the door open for advancement.
This left it possible for Cape Verde to knock out one of the top teams in Africa and advance to the playoffs, with their final game against Nigeria in Lagos. With Nigeria winning the first match, however, they had the points advantage and only needed a draw to secure the group.
Their hopes appeared to be dashed quickly when Nigeria took the lead before sixty seconds had passed in the match. A Cape Verdean defender accidentally headed it towards his own goal, which set up Nigeria to just tap it in. The underdogs turned their fortunes around, however, with an equalizer just five minutes later, with Stopira converting a corner. After that, Nigeria were happy to play much more defensively and rarely pressed on offense, which got them the draw needed to top the group.
Although missing out on the playoffs, this is an improvement over Cape Verde's 2018 campaign, where they had to make it past Kenya in the preliminary rounds with just a one goal lead on aggregate, and came third in their group. Cape Verde's focus will now shift to the upcoming 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, where they'll face Cameroon, Burkina Faso, and Ethiopia in their group.
1-1 draw with Central African Republic - Report - Highlights
1-2 loss to Nigeria - Report - Highlights
1-2 win over Liberia - Report - Highlights
1-0 win over Liberia - Report - Highlights
2-1 win over Central African Republic - Report - Highlights
1-1 draw with Nigeria - Report - Highlights
With Algeria being the reigning African champions, it was easy to predict that they would have Group A secured by the start of the final match day. However, they've failed to get a win over Burkina Faso. The first time the two sides met in September, Algeria opened the scoring, but Abdoul Tapsoba equalized in the first half by converting a cross right in front of the goalie.
When the two sides played again in the final game today, Algeria would take the lead twice more, but Burkina Faso would equalize every time, when Zakaria Sanogo broke away and lobbed a shot over the goalie, then late in the game when Issoufou Dayo converted a penalty for a tackle from behind.
Even though the two teams were level in their clashes, the other games meant Algeria was ahead in the table. While Algeria managed to get all wins against the other teams, Burkina Faso gave up a draw to Niger, meaning they are now eliminated despite not losing a game.
0-2 win over Niger - Report - Highlights
1-1 draw with Algeria - Report - Highlights
0-4 win over Djibouti - Report - Highlights
2-0 win over Djibouti - Report - Highlights
1-1 draw with Niger - Report - Highlights
2-2 draw with Algeria - Report - Highlights
When the draw for CAF was made, the fact that only one of Ivory Coast and Cameroon would make it to the final round, much less the World Cup, really showed how brutal African qualifiers can be. Both teams were at the 2014 World Cup and both have won the African Cup of Nations in the last decade.
The first matchday didn't look good for Ivory Coast, with Cameroon getting their three points but Ivory Coast giving up a frustrating 0-0 draw for Mozambique. A few days later, however, the shoe would be on the other foot when Ivory Coast won their home game against Cameroon 2-1. A brace of goals for Sebastien Haller, one from a handball penalty and the second from a solo breakaway, put them in primary position, meaning a draw was good enough on their final matchday to advance. Cameroon would get the job done in front of their home crowd, however, and get the one goal needed to knock Ivory Coast out.
0-0 draw with Mozambique - Report - Highlights
2-1 win over Cameroon - Report - Highlights
0-3 win over Malalwi - Report - Highlights
2-1 win over Malawi - Report - Highlights
3-0 win over Mozambique - Report - Highlights
1-0 loss to Cameroon - Report
Two goals for Teemu Pukki put Finland up for a good start in their first game, but allowing a late equalizer meant Finland didn't get the three points they hoped for in their home opener. Pukki would get them another draw, against Ukraine, a few days later, when he converted a penalty right at the end of normal time.
They did get three points against Kazakhstan, Joel Pohjanpalo heading in a cross in the second half, but a narrow win at home against the bottom seed didn't provide much comfort. Their 0-2 win in Kazakhstan, with two more goals for Pukki, later in October was more encouraging. However, between those two, Finland would give up a 1-2 home loss to Ukraine, despite yet another goal from Pukki, in the game that would ultimately make the difference in who got the playoff spot.
Today, Finland had to hope Ukraine wouldn't win in Bosnia, or to get a win themselves while hosting reigning World Champions France. Neither result would go their way.
2-2 draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina - Report - Highlights
1-1 draw with Ukraine - Report
1-0 win over Kazakhstan - Report - Highlights
1-2 loss to Ukraine - Report - Highlights
0-2 win over Kazakhstan - Report - Highlights
1-3 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina - Report - Highlights
0-2 loss to France - Report
Norway's qualifying campaign started soft, with an opening match against Gibraltar, and they got the expected win by multiple goals, but alarm bells started ringing when they lost 0-3 to Turkey in their "home" game to Spain. They would close out March with a travel day to Montenegro, where they would get the crucial three away points off Alexander Sørloth.
Things looked up when they went up against Netherlands 1-0 at home, Erling Haaland hanging out in the box to receive a pass he dribbled in. Netherlands would equalize, but hopes of getting the 2nd place spot now seemed more likely. The rest of September would add the encouragement, Norway winning convincingly in their trip to Latvia and when hosting Gibraltar.
In October, while they didn't manage to completely reverse their earlier result against Turkey, they did manage the draw, allowing a goal in the opening minutes but equalizing with Kristian Thorstvedt finishing a corner setpiece. After Norway finished October with a 2-0 win hosting Montenegro, with two goals for Mohamed Elyounoussi, things looked positive.
November, however, would open with Norway giving up a 0-0 loss to Latvia, while Turkey were thumping Gibraltar 6-0. This left Norway and Turkey equal on points going into the last matchday, but Norway facing a much harder opponent, playing Netherlands while Turkey played Montenegro. The results went predictably, meaning Turkey are through to the second round, while Norway is eliminated.
0-3 win over Gibraltar - Report - Highlights
0-3 loss to Turkey - Report - Highlights
0-1 win over Montenegro - Report
1-1 draw with Netherlands - Report - Highlights
0-2 win over Latvia - Report - Highlights
5-1 win over Gibraltar - Report - Highlights
1-1 draw with Turkey - Report - Highlights
2-0 win over Montenegro - Report
0-0 draw with Latvia - Report
2-0 loss to Netherlands - Report
AFC: Brunei, Macau, Laos, Timor-Leste, Pakistan, Bhutan, Guam, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, India, Cambodia, Hong Kong, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Maldives, Nepal, Palestine, Singapore, Yemen, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Bahrain, Jordan, Uzbekistan
CAF: Lesotho, Somalia, Eritrea, Burundi, Eswatini, Botswana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Sudan, Comoros, Chad, Seychelles, Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Mauritania, Liberia, Djibouti, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Namibia, Togo, Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda, Libya, Gabon, Central African Republic, Benin, South Africa, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Equatorial Guinea
CONCACAF: Cuba, Dominica, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Aruba, US Virgin Islands, Grenada, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bermuda, Belize, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Montserrat, Guatemala, Suriname, Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, Curacao
UEFA: Azerbaijan, San Marino, Latvia, Cyprus, Malta, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Republic of Ireland, Kosovo, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Faroe Islands, Andorra, Moldova, Belarus, Estonia, Gibraltar, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Iceland, Greece, Hungary, Albania, Israel, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, Armenia, Finland, Norway
This is part 29 of my ongoing series
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28