By Franklin Sone Bayen*
Algeria finally had its way over Egypt to obtain Africa’s last World Cup ticket after their playoff in Khartoum Sudan on November 18, but that match should not have been necessary had Fifa followed its own rules to the very last letter.
Because Algeria scored three goals against Egypt in the away leg and Egypt scored only two against Algeria in the return leg in the Africa Group C of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, Algeria had an advantage based on Point 5 of the new FIFA rule for teams even on points at the end of group matches.
Nearly a month before the final group games of this 2010 World Cup qualifiers, we presented an exhaustive analysis of the expected outcome for Cameroon based on the possible results from matches on November 14 in Group A: Morocco-Cameroon and Togo-Gabon. It was a two part write-up, one titled “CMR-Morocco: THE LAST IFS”. The second, “Most complicated scenario”, was based on the new FIFA rule to rank teams even on points at the end of group games.
Our emphasis on the second write-up was on a scenario whereby Cameroon and their lone challengers Gabon were tied at 10 points each after the November 14 matches, ie, if Moroco defeated Cameroon and Gabon drew with Togo.
As it turned out, Cameroon’s victory over Morocco rolled them a red carpet to the World Cup. It rendered unnecessary and useless any further calculations (ifs) based on the outcome of the Togo-Gabon match in Lome the same day.
With Cameroon’s 13 points, even a victory for Gabon raising them to 12 points would have been of the no consequence. Worst case scenario for Gabon, they were beaten 1-0 by Togo, to mark time at nine points. Cameroon thus sailed through, with safe four points from Gabon.
The Indomitable Lions thus spared already anxious Cameroonians the trouble of that “Most complicated scenario”. Instead, where it applied, and nearly so perfectly, was between Egypt and Algeria. They ended the qualifiers at par on everything from points to goals scored, goals conceded, goal difference and even more. Plus, they faced each other on the last day of play on November 14, Egypt beating Algeria 2-0 to attain that nearly perfect equality, necessitating their playoff on November 18 in Khartoum, Sudan. Algeria won the playoff 1-0 to grab Africa’s last World Cup ticket.
Weeks ahead of their Saturday game, FIFA notified that if Egypt defeated Algeria 2-0 on the last day of play, the two would go for a playoff. That was because ahead of that game, Algeria had 13 points after four matches, Egypt 10; Algeria had scored nine goals, Egypt seven; Algeria had conceded two goals, Egypt four; Algeria had +7 in goal difference, Egypt +3. Algeria had beaten Egypt in the first leg in Algeria 3-1. This meant that if Egypt defeated Algeria 2-0 in Egypt, both teams would be tied at 13 points, they would both have scored nine goals, both would have conceded four goals, both would thus have ended the qualifiers with +5 in goal difference and each would have beaten the other at home by a two-goal difference. (Nearly) perfect equality!
As we explained in our previous write-up, this is what the new FIFA rule says about ranking of teams with equal points sourced from the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia: “If teams are even on points at the end of group play, the tied teams will be ranked by: 1. goal difference in all group matches (Algeria +5, Egypt +5) 2. greater number of goals scored in all group matches (Algeria 9, Egypt 9) 3. greater number of points obtained in matches between the tied teams (Algeria 3, Egypt 3) 4. goal difference in matches between the tied teams (3-3: 1st leg Algeria 3-1 Egypt, 2nd leg Egypt 2-0 Algeria) 5. greater number of goals scored in matches between the tied teams (Algeria 3, Egypt 2, take note of this) 6. drawing of lots, or playoffs (if approved by FIFA).”
Take note that Algeria have an advantage over Egypt on point 5. It may seem complicated but understand it in other words thus: which team scored more goals in either of the matches played between Algeria and Egypt? In the away leg, Algeria won scoring three goals. In the return leg, Egypt won scoring just two. Point 5 disregards goals conceded in matches between tied teams.
Although they were even on particular goal difference, it must be pointed out that FIFA put that as one of the conditions for ranking teams tied on points, and ought to have respected it. Algeria had the advantage, but FIFA seemed to have foreseen and ignored it. Reason they skipped to point 6, ie, the Algeria-Egypt playoff on November 18.
Rules well applied, will always penalize someone and leave them offended. Nigeria, clearly a favorite in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, bowed to the old FIFA rule whereby the first consideration (Point 1) has now become Point 3 in the new rule. That gave Angola the ticket to the 2006 World Cup to the detriment of Nigeria who had better goal difference (+14) in all group matches (Point 1 in the new rule). Angola had only +6. Nigeria had scored far more goals (Point 2 in the new rule), a whopping 21. Angola had scored only 12. But Angola had grabbed four out of six available points in matches between the two teams (Point 1 in the old rule, Point 3 in the new rule), having beaten Nigeria 1-0 in the away leg in Angola and held them to a 1-1 draw in the return leg in Nigeria.
Nigerian fans thought they had been cheated, but that was the rule then. It was respected. Not quite so for Algeria-Egypt in the 2010 qualifiers.
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*The author is editor-in-chief of Cameroon sport magazine “This is SPORT! This is FOOTBALL!