While qualifying matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ were keeping fans on the edge of their seats across the globe, teams in the African zone were excused from competitive action, as they await the next round of qualifiers in August. This hiatus did not prevent African nations from playing a series of preparatory friendly matches, the details of which FIFA.com rounds up below.
Thursday 23 March
Nigeria 1-1 Senegal, Barnet (England)
Russia 0-2 Côte d’Ivoire, Krasnodar (Russia)
Morocco 2-0 Burkina Faso, Marrakech (Morocco)
Mauritania 1-0 Benin, Nouakchott (Mauritania)
Tunisia 0-1 Cameroon, Monastir (Tunisia)
Guinea 2-2 Gabon, Le Havre (France)
Libya 0-0 Togo, Alexandria (Egypt)
Saturday 25 March
South Africa 3-1 Guinea-Bissau, Durban (South Africa)
Zimbabwe 0-0 Zambia, Harare (Zimbabwe)
Tanzania 2-0 Botswana, Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)
Sunday 26 March
Kenya 2-1 Congo DR, Nairobi (Kenya)
The big match
Tunisia 0-1 Cameroon
In their first outing since claiming the CAF Africa Cup of Nations title, the Indomitable Lions got the better of Tunisia in Monastir. Their winning goal came courtesy of Vincent Aboubaka, the hero of the continental final against Egypt in February, who converted a dangerous Benjamin Moukandjo free-kick in the 14th minute. The Tunisians came close to finding an equaliser – Taha Yassine Khenissi (16’) and Ahmed Akaichi (34’) both struck the crossbar with opposing goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa beaten – but Cameroon dug deep and proceeded to defend their lead effectively in the second half. This encouraging win should provide the African champions with a welcome confidence boost ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 in the summer.
On Thursday, three African giants took to the pitch, and all of them travelled abroad to do so. Nigeria and Senegal locked horns in England; the match ended in a 1-1 stalemate. Moussa Sow may not have scored one of his signature overhead kicks, but his goal for the Lions of Teranga, which saw him control the ball with his knee and then smash home a volley, certainly raised a few eyebrows in Barnet. Manchester City’s young Nigerian forward, Kelechi Iheanacho, winner of the Golden Ball award at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013, levelled matters from the penalty spot in the 84th minute.
Knocked out at the group stage of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, Côte d’Ivoire got back on track in Russia, defeating the hosts of the upcoming World Cup 2-0. Two of the Elephants’ England-based players, Jonathan Kodjia (Aston Villa) and Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace), grabbed the goals – Zaha’s strike, which saw him embark on a mazy run past the entire Russian rearguard, will remain long in the memories of the watching supporters.
Morocco got the better of Gabon 2017 semi-finalists Burkina Faso by the same scoreline: Faycal Fajr opened the scoring with a fine long-range shot in the 34th minute, prior to Aziz Bouhaddouz doubling the North Africans’ lead on 64 minutes, much to the delight of a packed Stade de Marrakech.
Mauritania and Benin, who are both already out of the running for Russia 2018, clashed in Nouakchott on Friday. The home side eventually emerged victorious courtesy of a last-minute goal, with Moulaye Ahmed – better known as 'Bessam' – netting from the spot. Corentin Martins’s men will have a chance to build on that positive result against Congo on Tuesday.
Despite Gael Kakuta’s first international goal – a superb free-kick in the 60th minute – Congo DR were on the wrong end of a surprise result in Kenya. Remarkably, the Harambee Stars had already beaten the Leopards in Kinshasa in October 2016, and they repeated that creditable performance in Nairobi, where Michael Olunga registered a decisive brace (7' and 72').
Propelled by the excellent Keagan Dolly, South Africa overcame Guinea-Bissau in Durban. Kermit Eramus put Bafana Bafana ahead from the penalty spot before Percy Tau celebrated his full international debut by making it 2-0. Aldair Bald reduced the deficit for Guinea-Bissau, but Oostende midfielder Andile Jali made it 3-1 with another well-taken penalty. Another Belgian league star also shone on Saturday: Genk forward Mbwana Samatta registered a double in Tanzania’s 2-0 victory over Botswana.
Last but not least, the Zimbabwe-Zambia, Libya-Togo and Guinea-Gabon duels finished all square. While the first two encounters failed to produce a goal, the Guineans and Gabonese played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in Le Havre. French fans in attendance had the opportunity to see several familiar names, such as Bordeaux’s Francois Kaman and Toulouse’s Issiaga Sylla, who both scored for Guinea. The Panthers, meanwhile, twice came back from a goal down, via Tours’ Denis Bouanga and former Lorient midfielder Didier Ndong.
Michael Olunga, who is studying for a degree in geospatial engineering and is nicknamed 'the Engineer' by Kenya’s fanbase, got his angles right once again against Congo DR. Having already found the net against the same team in a friendly victory last year, the imposing attacker, who plies his trade for Guizhou Zhicheng in China, popped up with two crucial goals for his country on Sunday, which also happened to be his 23rd birthday.
16 – The number of matches that South Africa, who have not had a permanent coach in place since December 2016, have now gone without defeat – a new national record.
Did you know?
Although Marc Wilmots took the reins of Côte d’Ivoire last week, it was without their new coach that the Elephants triumphed in Russia. Ibrahim Kamara, the right-hand man of former coach Michel Dussuyer, took charge for the friendly game in Krasnodar. Wilmots will begin his new job in earnest when the Ivorians take on Senegal in another friendly in Paris on Monday.
What they said
“I’m very satisfied. I must congratulate my players for the way in which they pressed as a team. In attack, there are still a few things to improve, of course. We have to be more clinical and finish off matches more effectively. When we get to that stage, I think we’ll cause a lot of teams real problems, but overall our mental attitude is good,” Morocco coach Herve Renard.
Monday 27 March
Nigeria-Burkina Faso, London (England)
Senegal-Côte d’Ivoire, Paris (France)
Tuesday 28 March
Egypt-Togo, Alexandria (Egypt)
Guinea-Cameroon, Brussels (Belgium)
Mauritania-Congo, Nouakchott (Mauritania)
Morocco-Tunisia, Marrakech (Morocco)
South Africa-Angola, Durban (South Africa)