FIFA on course for own goal in African World Cup qualifiers
Football's controlling body FIFA and the African body CAF are on course to scoring an own goal with their 2010 World Cup qualifiers that could result in a situation that forces a country to lose or draw their final game in order to advance. ( dpa )
The qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup that is being staged in South Africa are doubling-up as the qualifiers for the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola, with both host countries participating in the qualifiers.
At the World Cup qualifying draw in Durban last year, the 48 African teams remaining in the competition were drawn into 12 groups of four teams each, with the 12 group-winners, as well as the eight- best second-placed teams advancing to the second and final round.
A problem arose after Eritrea withdrew from Group 11, resulting in just three teams remaining.
It was then decided that, to ascertain which were in fact the best eight runners-up, all the teams that finished second in the groups with four teams would have their results against the bottom placed country in their group scratched.
In Group 4 of the qualifiers, where South Africa is surprisingly close to being knocked out of the African Cup of Nations, the 2010 hosts could well be in a situation that they will be eliminated if they win their final game against Equatorial Guinea.
After drawing and losing to Sierra Leone, Bafana face a do-or-die game against Nigeria on weekend. If they fail to win, they will certainly have been eliminated from the Nations Cup.
If they win, much will depend on the result of the other game between Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea.
A victory for Sierra Leone will all but guarantee an early exit for the 1996 African champions.
A draw or a victory for the visiting side from Equatorial Guinea will keep alive South Africa's chances of qualifying for the finals of the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola, on condition they do not win their final game in Equatorial Guinea.
South Africa, who are currently on four points behind the already- qualified Nigerians, would move to seven points should they win. Sierra Leone would remain on four or move to five if they lose or draw to Equatorial Guinea.
Equatorial Guinea would move to four points (with a draw) or six (with a victory).
South Africa then faces Equatorial Guinea in their final game and would finish second if they win that game. In that case, however, Equatorial Guinea would in all probability finish last in the group and the six points that South Africa secured against them would be scratched, leaving South Africa with four points - too few to advance as one of the best-eight second-placed teams.
If, however, South Africa do not win, Equatorial Guinea could finish third and South Africa keep the three or four points they secured against them and as a result could advance to the next round with six or seven points.
If all of this sounds rather complicated, that is because it is!
In fact, it is so complicated that it seems unlikely that the FIFA competitions department would have scheduled the regulations in such a way that a situation could arise that a team has to lose or draw to advance and would be knocked out if they won, had they understood the regulations themselves.
The Bafana Bafana manager Sipho Nkumane said the situation was very tricky. "It is a difficult situation. How can we tell our players that they are not allowed to win a game? That is a tricky situation.
"We will have to look at all the permutations after our game against Nigeria and then see what we have to do. The same situation could, of course, also arise in other groups."
A FIFA spokesman said that they worked on the premise that all teams would have to win games to ensure that they finished first or second.
"Teams have to win their matches if they want to make sure of winning their groups or finishing second. If South Africa do not win their game against Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone beat Nigeria, then they will probably not finish second at all.
"We will have to see the results of all the games to know all the different possibilities," he said.
And while this may, of course, be true, it seems remarkable that FIFA and CAF could allow a situation to arise in the first place that forces a team not to win a game in order to advance.