War-torn Libya misses out on Africa Cup of Nations spot

War-torn Libya misses out on Africa Cup of Nations spot
Burundi, Tanzania, Namibia and Kenya will all take to the AFCON field, while Israel and Turkey both got their Euro 2020 campaigns off to a flying start.
4 min read
02 Apr, 2019
Israel could only manage a 1-1 draw against Slovenia [Getty]
Every season, the end of March is the time to see national teams in action.

Across Africa and Asia, Middle Eastern and North African national teams had their share of international football.

While the Asian countries played mainly friendlies and tested their young players, in Africa and also in the qualification rounds of the European championship, it was real money-time.


The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifications have been concluded, with a few surprising faces in the final list of national teams set to arrive in Egypt for the tournament this summer.

Burundi made history with a heroic 1-1 draw against Gabon in Bujumbura. The Stoke City forward, Saido Berahino, led the Burundians in front of a crowd of almost 30,000 fans, while the Gabonese star - Arsenal's Pierre Emerick Aubameyang - also took to the pitch. Cedric Amissi gave Burundi the lead late in the match, only to have Gabon equalise - but it was too little, too late.

Burundi, a country that experienced one of the horrific genocides of the 20th century and which continues to suffer ethnic tension between Hutu and Tutsi groups, made history and are set to play in their first ever AFCON tournament.

President Pierre Nkurunziza wrote on Twitter: "We congratulate and we thank the Swallows for this unexpected honour for Burundi by bringing it in the African Cup of Nations tournaments for the first time. We thank God, and we will not let our hand down in supporting the games and athleticism."

Together with Burundi, two other surprising national teams won a spot in Egypt. Madagascar, already guaranteed its place in the last round of games, and Mauritania, which, despite a loss to Burkina Faso finished before them in group I, and will travel to the land of the pyramids in June.

Other notable qualifications: Tanzania has qualified for the first time since 1980, while Namibia and Kenya will play in the tournament after more than a decade in the continent's footballing wilderness.

Yet, when there are winners, always there are losers. Despite having a chance to grab a place, war-torn Libya ended the qualifications with a disappointing loss to South Africa in Sfax, Tunisia.

Due to security circumstances in Libya, the national team can't host its games on home soil, and the domestic league is also frequently interrupted, playing only sporadically since 2010.

The Libyans are known for a tremendous passion for the game, but the 1-2 loss to the Bafana Bafana sealed the fate of the Mediterranean Knights, who will watch the AFCON from home, hopefully safe and sound.


Israel kicked off its Euro 2020 qualification campaign with high hopes under Austrian manager, Andreas Herzog.

On Thursday, the Israelis played Slovenia in Haifa, but a weak game ended with a 1-1 draw. The Slovenians scored first after a huge mistake in defence allowed Andraž Šporar to nail in a shot from a close range.

Israel came back after an impressive set-piece trick from a corner led to Eran Zahavi putting the ball in the back of the net.

Israel's more important match was on Sunday, when Austria arrived at Haifa.

The two countries have quite a footballing history. In 1999, Israel chalked up one of their biggest games ever with a 5-0 victory in the Euro 2000 qualifications. They met again in the 2002 World Cup qualifications, when Herzog himself scored a free kick in extra time to keep Israel out of the finals.

On Sunday in Haifa, the bell rang again for Herzog.

Austria scored first after seven minutes, but then Eran Zahavi took over the match.

The Guangzhou R&F forward equalised with a header in the 34th minute and then added another goal on the verge of half-time. Against the flow of the game, the scoreboard showed 2-1 to Israel after 45 minutes.

The second half was all Zahavi. He netted another goal in a pacy counter-attack, and Austrian goalie Heinz Lindner could only watch the ball as it hit the back of the net. 3-1 Israel; absolute scenes in Haifa.

In the 66th minute came another excellent moment for Munnas Dabbur, the Palestinian citizen of Israel who plays his striking football for Red Bull Salzburg, who scored after an assist from Zahavi. 4-1 to Israel, as the fans chanted the names of Zahavi, Dabbur, Kayal and Taha, who are becoming the faces of a new side.

The Austrians grabbed one goal back, but the evening was all Andreas Herzog and his Jewish, Muslim and Circassian players, who sealed four points from the first two games of their campaign.

Turkey, meanwhile, has also begun a new era with this international break, now with Senol Günes as coach.

Burak Yilmaz and Hakan Çalhanoğlu scored the goals for the Ay-Yıldızlılar as they kicked off their Euro 2020 qualification campaign in style.


Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.