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African World Cup Qualification Preview

With another round of fascinating, and most likely bewildering, round of African World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, we preview some of the key contests as the second round enters its final round of games. The Ivory Coast, Egypt and Algeria have already booked their spot in the final playoff round and whilst those nations can use their final fixture for experimental purposes – there are a handful of other nations sweating over the remaining seven slots.

Group A – Ethiopia look to qualify again

Ethiopia should now be basking in the glory of surpassing all expectations and reaching the final ten, having apparently won the group in the last round of games. Yet such is the pendulum nature of African football they were docked three points due to fielding an ineligible player in Botswana.

Now they are likely to need a victory in Central African Republic, a side who are already out but given the likely nervy nature of the fixture could prove tricky proposition. South Africa are the side to be handed a second chance courtesy of the ineligible player drama and should they beat Botswana and Ethiopia stumble they could steal through. Their opponents could produce an even more alarming smash and grab, given that the three points they gained due to that Ethiopia game has offered them an opportunity to qualify if they win in South Africa and Central African Republic play their part.

Group B – Cape Verde still face huge task despite lifeline

Tunisia, like Ethiopia, had made it to round three before that old enemy the ineligible player struck again, even more frustrating being that the only reason they have not qualified is that Equatorial Guinea fielded an illegal player against Cape Verde.

That has thrown a lifeline to Cape Verde, although if they are to take advantage they must claim an unlikely win in Tunisia. The Tunisians remain unbeaten and are undoubtedly strong favourites to progress.

Group D – Ghana and Zambia face shoot out

Ghana and Zambia meet in Accra, with the former needing just a point to progress. A couple of fixtures ago it had looked likely that the Black Stars would need to win the crunch contest, given a defeat in Zambia earlier in the campaign.

The Zambians though have failed to capitalise with both Sudan and Lesotho taking points off Herve Renard’s men – of particular pain was a late strike in Lesotho that cost two key points. To make matters worse for Zambia is that Ghana have been boosted by the return of key pair Kevin Prince Boateng and Andre Ayew, makings the odds stacked ever further against them in this must win contest.

Group E – Burkina look to complete dramatic turnaround.

Without a point from their opening two games, thanks significantly to fielding an ineligible player (a theme might be developing here), Burkina Faso looked doomed.

Their hopes were dented yet further as Congo moved to maximum points from their opening three games – three of which were gifted to them due to the ineligible Burkinabe. The Congoleese have however failed twice to confirm their qualification and now face a nervous last day trip to Niger, in their favour is that their opponents are already out – that said given what a historical achievement qualification would be and the resources they can call on, the trip should still prove a real challenge.

All Burkina Faso can do is see off Gabon and hope Niger do their bit, coming in off the back of two straight qualification wins and finishing runners-up in the African Cup of Nations they certainly have the momentum with them. Gabon themselves are not out of it completely and should they win in Ouagadougou with a significant goal swing they could snatch top spot – it’s also worth noting that they are yet another side hampered by fielding an ineligible player.

Group F – Super Eagles look to finally finish the job

Nigeria despite failing to hit top form throughout the campaign, go into their final contest knowing a point at home to Malawi will be enough to secure their passage. Should the unthinkable happen and they fall to a first defeat then their opponents will claim the spot in round three.

In a group typified by late goals (only three of fourteen have come in the opening 70 minutes), there are plenty of ifs and buts – yet all of that will be irrelevant come the full time whistle on Saturday.

Group I – The ineligible player strikes again

Libya have reason to feel bluer than most – given that Cameroon being awarded three points following Togo fielding an ineligible player against them has seen the Indomitable Lions cruelly leapfrog the Libyan’s into top spot.

Now Libya, who have been one of the story of qualification, must surpass expectations yet further and win in Cameroon. On paper it might look an unlikely proposition but Libya riding on a wave of determination are as yet unbeaten, whilst their opponents have been indifferent throughout. Undoubtedly Cameroon go in as favourites to claim the point they need, nevertheless don’t rule out the inspired Libyan’s.

Group G – Senegal on the brink

Senegal require just a point against Uganda to give them an opportunity to return to the World Cup for the first time since their stunning debut in 2002.

Uganda though could spoil that and take the birth themselves, their hopes are boosted by the game being played in Morocco rather than in Senegal. The Ugandan’s had looked down and out yet two goals in the final seven minutes of their clash with Angola has ensured that their dreams of a first ever World Cup place.

The odds favour Senegal and it would take a brave man to bet against them, that said their recent African Cup of Nations failings highlight that things are not as certain as they may seem.