The roadblocks began on Saturday, January 22, from the lobby of a five-star hotel in Douala, Cameroon. It was a battle to get a place to attend in the press room the draw of the last ten African teams, which will compete, at the end of March, to win one of the five places reserved for the continent for the World Cup in Qatar. (November 21 to December 18, 2022). The Confederation of African Football (CAF) was expecting around fifty reporters, almost twice as many.
The event, on the sidelines of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), did not disappoint: “A fire draw! », ignited a Ghanaian journalist. And for good reason: the next five confrontations – Mali-Tunisia; Democratic Republic of Congo-Morocco; Ghana-Nigeria; Cameroon-Algeria and Egypt-Senegal – promise “very high level”, enthused the icon of Senegalese football, El-Hadji Diouf, guest of the draws.
“To go to the world, you have to suffer”
Two displays hold the attention. The first concerns the Lions of Teranga who will confront the Pharaohs. Thus, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, the two Liverpool strikers, venerated by their supporters in the club or in the selection, will find themselves face to face in a duel of prestigious center-forwards. Even if Mané and Salah have been far from flamboyant since the start of the CAN (one goal each in three games)…
“For Senegal, I hope history will repeat itself. In 2002, to qualify for the World Cup, we had a good result in Egypt., launches El-Hadji Diouf. With Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, best FIFA goalkeeper of the year 2021, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, or Paris-Saint-Germain midfielder Idrissa Gueye, Senegal (CAN 2019 finalist), may be the favorite. “We have the best team in Africa today, and to go to the World Cup, you have to suffer and we are ready to suffer for that”, wants to believe Mr. Diouf.
Cameroon-Algeria is the other highly anticipated meeting of these play-offs. “It’s our revenge”, repeat some Algerian journalists present. The defending champions Les Fennecs, great favorites of the African Cup, were eliminated in the first round after three nightmarish matches (0-0 against Sierra Leone; 0-1 against Equatorial Guinea; 3-1 for Côte d’Ivoire). So returning to the land of the Indomitable Lions for the Desert Warriors is “a golden opportunity to come back stronger”, claims Amara Charaf-Eddine, the president of the Algerian Football Federation (FAF).
Catching up for Algeria?
The CAN in Douala, base of the Fennecs, was a sporting event, but not only. Throughout the tournament, a strange, not to say mystical climate reigned around the Algerian team. What if the surprise defeat against Equatorial Guinea (January 16), which ended the formation’s unbeaten streak of thirty-five games in three years, was due to bad luck? To witchcraft? To the “grigris”? For some supporters, only black magic would be responsible for the dismal game of the Fennecs. So much so that the FAF had to deny in a press release that“At no time did she call on any exorcist (or raki) to come to Cameroon to bring her “services” to the players of the national team, as part of its participation in the CAN ».
After the slap taken against the Elephants, on January 20, the coach of the Greens, Djamel Belmadi, shot by his ” failure “, underlined at a press conference that he was “difficult to make a rational analysis immediately after such a big disappointment”. Then, a Cameroonian journalist spoke: “You speak of the irrational, that means that you yourself are struggling to find the explanations for your elimination. So we’re going to go straight: isn’t it the spirit of Albert Ebossé that has haunted the Fennecs throughout this CAN? » Black silence from the Algerian technician. “I don’t know who authorized you to enter this room sir, but he was guilty of professional misconduct. »
Albert Ebossé was a Cameroonian striker from the Algerian club JS Kabylie, killed in 2014 on the pitch by a projectile launched from the stands. Since then, the case has never been elucidated… The day after Djamel Belmadi’s press conference, the Cameroonian daily The messenger headlined in one: “The Ebossé Curse”. Thus implying that the disappointment of Algeria at the CAN was a « vengeance » of the deceased player.
With or without magic, the Fennecs disappointed. “It can be traumatic, also warns El-Hadji Diouf. But I am wary of this Algerian team which is injured. She has the chance to play immediately after her elimination a match for the World Cup and to be forgiven. The Algerian people love football and they will not forgive her if she does not qualify. Nothing is won against Cameroon, mentally very strong. »