African WC qualifier show on cards

Published on Thursday 29th May 2008

South Africa: The long battle for places at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the Africa Cup of Nations continues this weekend with 22 matches across the continent.

After last year's preliminary round 47 teams in 12 groups are now trying to grab just 20 places in the final qualifying stage.

However only 44 nations are in action this weekend after the match between Sudan and Chad was postponed due to political tension between the two neighbours, while Swaziland get a bye this weekend after the withdrawal of Eritrea.

Togo must recover from a self-inflicted wound Saturday to have a realistic chance of a second consecutive appearance at the World Cup.

The Hawks host Zambia in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, because of a four-match home ban owing to crowd violence that left two Mali footballers injured after a Nations Cup qualifier in Lome last year.

With Group 11 reduced to three countries following Eritrea's withdrawal, the two fixtures between Togo and Zambia seem certain to determine who finishes top in a group that also includes minnows Swaziland.

With two fewer games, it will be almost impossible for the second-placed team ending among the best eight runners-up in the 12-group second round and advancing to the final qualifying phase.

Togo have only just secured the services of French coach, Henri Stambouli, who has done something of a u-turn this week to take charge of the Hawks after indicating he was going to manage a third division club in his homeland.

Chipolopolo have also turned to a Frenchman in former Ghana assistant coach Herve Renard as they seek a place among the elite of world football for the first time.

Senegal, whose shock qualification for the 2002 World Cup was followed by a stunning run that took them to the quarter-finals, launch their Group 6 campaign at home to fellow fallen giants Algeria.

Failing to progress beyond the first round at the 2008 Nations Cup had severe repercussions as coach Henri Kasperczak and 29 of 40 national football federation officials resigned.

The lack of competitive football within the country since last September has been cushioned by coach Lamine Ndiaye naming am entirely foreign-bsed squad.

One big name missing is prolific scorer Mamadou Niang from French club Marseille, who has opted out owing to disillusionment with the Teranga Lions.

Also missing are long-serving Habib Beye, Lamine Diatta and Papa Bouba Diop, who have been axed for a match Fulham midfielder Diomansy Kamara says has to be won.

"When you play at home you always need to win and we have a very good chance because the team that confronts Algeria will be a strong one," he told BBC Sport.

Cameroon and Morocco are other big football nations in action Saturday and home advantage should ensure they get off to a winning start in groups they look capable of winning without undue difficulty.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, runners-up to Egypt in the Nations Cup last February, host Cape Verde in Group 1 which is completed by improving Tanzania and outsiders Mauritius.

Morocco, under Fathi Jamal until French coach Roger Lemerre takes over on 1 July, entertain poor travellers Ethiopia while Rwanda host Mauritania in the other Group 8 fixture.

The season in Europe has taken a toll already with the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Benni McCarthy and Obafemi Martins missing out on the first exchanges this Saturday and Sunday.

Drogba is injured and Toure out after a back operation for the Ivory Coast's opening game against Mozambique in Abidjan on Sunday.

Striker McCarthy has withdrawn from South Africa's team for unexplained personal reasons ahead of their match against Nigeria in Abuja.

There are also several injury worries for Bafana Bafana with Everton's Steven Pienaar limping off during a 1-0 win over Swaziland in a friendly on Thursday evening.

Pienaar joins fellow midfielders Delron Buckley, Lerato Chabangu and Teko Modise on the casualty list ahead of the toughest fixture for South Africa.

The home side are without the injured Martins up front, giving an opportunity to 20-year-old Victor Anichebe for a competitive debut.

As well as Togo the Ivorians are among the five African teams that played at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany who all start with a home tie in their respective groups.

Ghana take on Libya in Kumasi on Sunday, when Angola have a home tie against Benin in Luanda. Tunisia host Burkina Faso at Rades.

The first group phase will conclude in October after which the winners of the 12 groups advance to the next stage along with the eight best second-placed teams.

The second phase starts in November with the 20 remaining sides divided into five groups of four. The group winners will qualify for the 2010 World Cup.