The Southern African region has been at the receiving end of African football for so long and has found it hard to have three or more representatives at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Those countries that normally represent the region are for that matter knocked out early in the competition.
The tide however seems to be changing as most Southern African teams are doing well in the qualifications for the 2012 AFCON that will be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Southern Africa could have more than four representatives’ at next year’s tournament, provided they do not slip up in the remaining matches. Most Southern African teams have been excelling in the qualifiers, with the traditionally big-name countries from North and West Africa struggling and in danger of failing to qualify.
As it is, Botswana will be making their maiden appearance at the tournament and could be followed in qualification by the likes of Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Angola.
Since Botswana has already sealed the top spot in group K, the fierce battle is for the second position. Malawi is fiercely fighting for the second berth with fellow North Africans, Tunisia.
The teams are level on points, but Tunisia have a goal’s difference with two more matches to play.
What could Malawi the edge is that they will be hosting Tunisia at home in September and have the potential to pull a surprise.
South Africa are definitely on course to make it after failing to qualify in 2010. The 1996 champions have already shocked Egypt, which won the championships three times in a row, by leading the group. At the tail of the group, the Pharaohs are in danger of being edged out of qualification for the biennial showpiece. Their successful coach has already resigned from his position.
Zimbabwe have also a chance in group A and despite being on third position, they are just two points away from surprise group leaders, Cape Verde. Zimbabwe did not start the qualifications well and if they can come right in their next two matches, they have a fighting chance. What they should also strive for is to be one of the best runners up that would also guarantee them a place to next year’s tournament.
Zambia are also group leaders, topping group already topping Group C and appear to be a near certainty for a tournament in which they have been a regular feature since the early 1990s.
The last two remaining matches for Angola in group K are very vital because they are hard on the heels of group leaders, Uganda. Teams in group K are left with two matches with Angola trailing Uganda by four points.
Angola should hope Uganda lose all their remaining matches provided other results go their way. They should also hope for the position of second best runners up.
On the other hand, Malawi coach Kinnah Phiri told the Telegraph after a goalless draw with Botswana that the improvement in the qualifications by Southern African teams is because most of them are under local coaches.
“Most Southern African teams are currently under their native coaches unlike in the past when they were led by foreigners. Just look at Botswana, they are qualifying for the first time because a local coach who understands the local culture is in charge. I am also a Malawian and remember that we are seeking our back-to-back qualification and I am the one who has been leading my own country.
Time has come to always give locals a chance,” he said.
For his part the President of Football Association of Malawi, Walter Nyamilandu said Southern African teams are doing well because of proper structures that are in place.
“Unlike in the past we see most countries putting proper structures in place and we are now catching up with those who have been dominating African football for long. Even in Malawi we are not left behind because there are several development structures in place and results are starting to show up,” he said.