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Salah, Partey, Uzoho: Africa’s tops & flops from the World Cup playoffs

11:53 PM IST 30/03/22
Francis Uzoho
GOAL’s Ed Dove celebrates the winners and commiserates with the losers after Tuesday’s qualifiers across the continent

  • Achraf Hakimi & Azzedine Ounahi of Morocco

    Top: Azzedine Ounahi

    The great revelation of this international break, and perhaps the future of the Morocco national side, Ounahi excelled as the Atlas Lions booked their ticket to the World Cup and certainly helped the North Africans forget about retired Hakim Ziyech.

    Despite only making his international debut during the Africa Cup of Nations, he netted twice as Morocco saw off the Democratic Republic of Congo 5-2 on aggregate to reach Qatar, including an opening curling effort that was the strike of Africa’s international break.

    His interplay with another new boy—Tarik Tissoudali—for the second goal was magnificent, and the 21-year-old already looks to be a valuable addition for this Lions squad.

  • Uzoho

    Flop: Francis Uzoho

    This international break was Uzoho’s grand opportunity to prove that he deserved to unseat Maduka Okoye and reclaim Nigeria’s No. 1 jersey.

    Once upon a time, Uzoho was the Super Eagles’ main man between the sticks, but the emergence of Okoye had relegated him to standby duty…at least until the latter’s illness-enforced absence against Ghana.

    After keeping a clean sheet in the first leg—although he wasn’t particularly tested—Uzoho was at fault in the return match on Tuesday as he let Thomas Partey’s hopeful effort under his body.

    It was a shot that a keeper should save, and Uzoho—like Okoye before him—will now have to bear the brunt of Nigeria fan criticism.

  • Thomas Partey Ghana

    Top: Thomas Partey

    After impressing in the first leg between Nigeria and Ghana in Kumasi, Partey turned it on in the return match, delivering a commanding display in the heart of the park and ultimately bagging the decisive goal for the Black Stars.

    As mentioned, Uzoho must take some blame for the opener, but it was testament to Partey’s desire to push forward and make things happen in the final third that the goalkeeper was put in that position in the first place.

    The Arsenal man’s contribution during the rest of the contest, as he repeatedly neutralised Nigeria’s advances forward, demonstrated the importance he has to this World Cup-bound Black Stars side.

  • Djamel Belmadi Algeria

    Flop: Djamel Belmadi

    The sight of Belmadi, crumpled to the turf, head in his hands, at the conclusion of Algeria’s defeat by Cameroon was one of the defining images of the qualifying campaign.

    It was the picture of heartbreak for a man who has given so much to the national side, achieved so much with the national side, and clearly believed that the Fennecs were about to secure redemption after their disastrous title defence in Cameroon.

    Ultimately, Karl Toko Ekambi’s late winner ended Algeria’s magnificent record in Blida, and denied them a return to the World Cup. Belmadi remains in his post—for now—but it may have also ended his glorious tenure with the national side.

  • Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana.

    Top: Andre Onana

    The Ajax stopper was outstanding as Cameroon eliminated Algeria, proving why he may deserve to be considered Africa’s top stopper again one day.

    The keeper made 10 saves throughout the contest, including from two clearcut chances, and launched almost a dozen successful counterattacks with long balls.

    Some of his stops were magnificent, and after a mixed Nations Cup, Onana again proved how valuable he is for the Indomitable Lions.

  • Mohamed Salah, Egypt 2022

    Flop: Mohamed Salah

    Salah appeared to take on board the criticism he faced after the Nations Cup final, when he didn’t step up to take a spotkick in Egypt’s final defeat against Senegal, when the two sides had to settle their differences on penalties again.

    On Tuesday, he was the Pharaohs’ first taker, following in the footsteps of Teranga Lions skipper Kalidou Koulibaly, but like K2, Salah was not able to convert his spotkick, instead blazing over.

    There were mitigating circumstances; local supporters were shining lasers in the Liverpool superstar’s eyes in the build-up to his penalty, but it was a decisive moment that summed up a frustrating last few months for Salah in Egypt colours.

    The Nations Cup evaded him in the final, and now he’ll have to watch the World Cup on TV when, at 29 and in his prime, he really should have been one of its main attractions.