Though outgoing African champions Egypt defeated group leaders Niger 3-0 in Cairo, the combination of results was not enough to send South Africa through.
Niger, South Africa and Sierra Leone all ended on nine points, but Niger claimed the most points from a ‘mini-league’ between the three teams, meaning they advance as group winners and will play in the Nations Cup for the first time in their history.
According to the Regulations of the Orange Africa Cup of Nations GABON-GUINEA EQUATORIAL 2012 Article 14, these are the criteria for teams tied in a group:
In case of equality of points between two or more teams, after all the group matches, the ranking of the teams shall be established according to the following criteria: 14.1 Greater number of points obtained in the matches between the concerned teams; 14.2. Best goal difference in the matches between the concerned teams; 14.3. Greater number of goals scored in the group matches between the concerned teams; 14.4. Greater number of away goals scored in the direct matches between the concerned teams; 14.5. Goal difference in all the group matches; 14.6. Greatest number of goals scored in all the group matches; 14.7. A drawing of lots by the Organising Committee of CAF.
According to these rules, Niger qualify, because in results between the three:
Niger GF 5 GA 5 GD 0 P 6 South Africa GF 3 GA 2 GD +1 P 5 Sierra Leone GF 2 GA 3 GD -1 P 5
Sierra Leone started the match strongly and were the better team in the opening quarter hour, with strikers Tetteh Bangura and Mohamed Bangura proving a handful for South Africa’s defence.
Bafana Bafana gradually took a stranglehold in midfield and began to dominate possession, but they were unable to really stretch the well-organised Leone Stars backline.
The visitors’ goalkeeper Christian Caulker had only one save of any significance to make in the first half, smothering Katlego Mphela’s dipping free-kick five minutes before the break.
As for Itumeleng Khune, he had a couple of nervy moments from corner kicks and crosses by Sierra Leone’s wingers, but otherwise he was well protected by the likes of Morgan Gould and Siyabonga Sangweni.
The West Africans were the first to threaten a goal in the second half, with central defender Mohamed Kamara heading just wide of goal from a corner kick 10 minutes after the restart.
Just past the hour mark Siphiwe Tshabalala had a chance to put Bafana Bafana ahead but he shot wide of the target after breaking into space in the ‘D’ of the penalty area.
By this stage Egypt were 2-0 up against Niger in Cairo and South Africa believed they were on course to top the group, but Sierra Leone gave warning of their danger in the 72nd minute with a swerving shot from Sheriff Suma that forced a splendid save from Khune.
Sierra Leone’s Caulker was also tested from long range, punching away a fierce Tshabalala free-kick on 83 minutes.
At this stage the game was very much in the balance – with Niger now 3-0 down in Cairo, Bafana thought they only needed to hang onto the draw, while a goal for the Leone Stars would have seen them through.
In the end the match ended 0-0 and South Africa’s players celebrated at the final whistle, mistakenly believing they had qualified for 2012.