It is make-or-break weekend for 30 African countries as they are just a game away from qualifying for the 29th edition of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The two-legged second-round ties, which will determine the 15 finalists to join hosts South Africa at next year's finals, will be concluded on Saturday and Sunday in the return legs.
To avoid conflict with the FIFA World Cup™, the Cup of Nations is changing to be held every odd year. This, however, has meant that two competitions will be held within a year of each other, and this, in turn, means that the chances of an upset - as many countries play just two matches in the qualifiers - are much greater than usual. Already out of the running to win the tournament for a record eighth time are Egypt, who were sensationally knocked out in the last round by Central African Republic.
In serious danger of also missing out on a trip to South Africa early next year, are Cameroon's Indomitable Lions, who looked pretty tame in their first leg encounter in Praia against Cape Verde Islands. Ricardo and Djaniny gave the Blue Sharks a valuable 2-0 lead going into the return leg in Yaounde. Seeking a first-ever appearance at the finals, Cape Verde will call on a host of Portuguese-born players, most of whom play their club football in the country of their birth.
For Cameroon the game is one of national importance and Prime Minister Philemon Yang has met with former captain Samuel Eto'o in order to convince him to return to the side after the striker had declined an invitation to end his self-imposed exile. Eto'o said after the meeting that he would make himself available, writing on his website: "I am encouraged by my desire to serve my country with the same faith and determination as the last 15 years." It seems likely that Eto'o will be made captain by new coach Jean Paul Akono, who replaced Denis Lavagne after the Frenchman was sacked following the defeat in Praia.
Champions, Elephants hope to hang on
Defending champions Zambia will also have their work cut out for them as they travel to Uganda, defending a 1-0 lead from the first leg. Coach Herve Renard has been in camp in South Africa with his team ahead of the game and said that even though Uganda is much lower in the rankings than the Chipolopolo, he is expecting a tough game. "[Rankings] are never a true reflection of the team's potential," he said. Renard could well be without inspirational midfielder Rainford Kalaba who picked up an injury in TP Mazembe's goalless draw at home in a CAF Champions League semi-final clash against Esperance on the weekend.
French coach Claude Le Roy goes into his match without much pressure after his Congo DR side did most of the work in the first leg by beating the co-hosts of the last tournament, Equatorial Guinea, 4-0. Mali also claimed a sizable advantage in the first leg, a 3-0 win against Botswana, but most of the other matches are evenly poised. Nigeria, who drew 2-2 in Liberia in their first leg, will still be favoured to secure a place at the finals, as are Tunisia, who drew by the same score in Sierra Leone. Ghana's Black Stars must defend a 2-0 lead in Malawi, while Morocco face a long climb to overcome a shock 2-0 defeat in Mozambique.
Côte d'Ivoire striker Didier Drogba heads a host of Ivorian stars like Manchester City's Toure brothers, Kolo and Yaya, and Arsenal forward Gervinho, who are away to Senegal. The Elephants are defending a 4-2 lead from the first leg, but with Newcastle United's rampant strike force of Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba, who is the current Premier League top scorer, Senegal could turn things around in the Stade Leopold Senghor in Dakar.
New Niger coach Gernot Rohr is trying to lead his side to a comeback from a 1-0 defeat in Guinea, and Zimbabwe are hoping for their third participation at the finals after winning 3-1 at home against Angola. “It’s a great opportunity, but it will be a tough game. It’s no easy ride, that’s for sure,” said Zimbabwe captain Esrom Nyandoro about the match in Luanda. “They have a big imposing stadium. Angola are a great team, and we were perhaps a little lucky to come away with a 3-1 win.”
CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2013 qualifying fixtures
(first leg score in brackets)
Botswana - Mali (0-3)
Malawi - Ghana (0-2)
Nigeria - Liberia (2-2)
Uganda - Zambia (0-1)
Tunisia - Sierra Leone (2-2)
Morocco - Mozambique (0-2)
Senegal - Côte d'Ivoire (2-4)
Angola - Zimbabwe (1-3)
Cameroon - Cape Verde Islands (0-2)
Niger - Guinea (0-1)
Ethiopia - Sudan (3-5)
Algeria - Libya (1-0)
Equatorial Guinea - Congo DR (0-4)
Togo - Gabon (1-1)
Burkina Faso - Central African Republic (0-1)