11 June 2013

North Africa: Maghreb Sides Top World Cup Qualifier Groups

Tunis, Abdou Tajeddine and Essam Mohamed — Maghreb sides made progress at the week-end in their quests to reach the 2014 World Cup.

Their latest round of qualifiers began with Libya's first home match since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi.

The Mediterranean Knights and visitors DR Congo posted a barren draw in the Group I game played Friday under high security at the 70,000-seat Tripoli stadium.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan, former national transitional council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani and other officials attended the match to celebrate the end of the CAF and FIFA bans.

The stadium was filled to capacity with flag-waving fans. The Libyans wore red shirts, black shorts and white shoes (the colours of the independence flag).

The Mediterranean Knights passed up a penalty in the 11th minute when the Congolese goalkeeper denied Libya skipper Ahmed Saad and cleared the ball to a corner.

In the second half, the Libyans dominated the match but passed up many scoring opportunities, especially in the 55th and 56th minutes.

The match was suspended at the 79th minute because of a stone thrown from afar on a Congolese player.

Ali al-Aqari, a fan who attended the match, told Magharebia that given their circumstances, the national side did their best.

"There was no local league, and the team didn't play any international matches at home or abroad," he said.

"The team also doesn't have a famous foreign coach, and as you know, Libya hasn't played in 3 years," the fan added.

Ahead of their June 14th home against Togo, the Mediterranean Knights have six points in Group I - the same as Cameroon.

One change emerged Monday (June 10th).

FIFA decided to switch the venue for Libya's next match to Tripoli. The June 14th qualifier against Togo was to be played in Benina, close to Benghazi. The decision was prompted by the recent Benghazi violence that left 31 people dead and a hundred wounded.

Algeria beat Benin

Algeria beat Benin 3-1 away on Sunday (June 9th) in their Group H qualifier in Porto-Novo.

The Greens were behind after the 31st minute. Striker Islam Slimani equalised (38') and doubled four minutes later.

Making his first official participation with the Algerian national team, Nabil Ghilas netted another goal (78') to secure the win.

Because Mali and Rwanda drew 1-1 draw on Sunday, Algeria top Group H with 9 points. Mali are second with seven points, Benin are third place with 4 points, while Rwanda have two.

"I am very happy with this win and with the solid performance of the players," Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodzic said after the match.

"We are facing a great challenge, which is to reach the final round of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. We hadn't seen two consecutive wins outside Algeria in a long time. We've achieved half of the journey and will seek to finish the job successfully when we go out to play Rwanda."

Team captain Madjid ("Magic") Bougherra said, "We achieved a deserved victory, which will help us morally to win the next game against Rwanda. We must concentrate very well in order to finish the journey successfully."

"I cannot find the right words to express my joy," playmaker Slimani said. "I scored two goals, thanks to my colleagues who supported me as well as the coach who put his trust in me."

"I hope to score more goals against Rwanda," Slimani added.

Tunisia post away draw

Tunisia edged closer to qualifying for the World Cup with a Group B draw against Sierra Leone in Freetown on Saturday.

The hosts netted in the 39th minute. Oussama Darragi tied it up in the 55th minute on a penalty kick, but Sierra Leone scored again (72').

The situation looked grim for the Carthage Eagles. In the last minute of the game, Sfaxien striker Fakhreddine Ben Youssef saved his team from falling into the trap of defeat for the first time in the World Cup qualifiers.

Right before the final whistle, Ben Youssef stunned everyone by dribbling the ball away from the Sierra Leone goalkeeper and settling the score at 2-2.

The 2-2 away tie put Group B leaders Tunisia with 10 points, five ahead of Sierra Leone.

"The important thing has been achieved, which is to continue occupying the top of the group," Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul said.

Tunisia next face Equatorial Guinea in Malabo on June 16th.

Morocco beat Tanzania

Morocco grabbed their first World Cup qualifier win on Saturday.

The Atlas Lions defeated Tanzania 2-1 in Marrakech.

Abderazak Hamadellah netted the first goal on the spot for the hosts before half-time. Youssef El Arabi scored another goal for the Atlas Lions in the 51st minute.

Cote d'Ivoire lead Group C. Tanzania are second with six points and Morocco are third with five.

Next week-end, the Atlas Lions will host Gambia in Marrakech. The visitors are last in the group.

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