African contest hots up
© AFP

There has been but just one match of six played in the final phase of African qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and already several key sides face veritable moments of truth in their campaign for a ticket to world football's greatest stage.

Among them are favourites Cameroon and Morocco, who have collectively qualified for nine previous FIFA World Cup finals. Also in some peril are reigning African champions Egypt and the unpredictable Guinea, both of whom were expected to feature among the serious contenders for the finals.

The first matchday in March provided a host of surprises and with two more matches in quick succession this month, the picture could soon become a lot clearer. Both Cameroon and Morocco were humbled in their opening group outings and now go head-to-head in Yaoundé on Sunday while Egypt, having dropped potentially vital points at home, seek to revive their campaign away against long-standing rivals Algeria. Guinea hope to overturn a run of five successive defeats in head-to-head matches with Cote d'Ivoire when they host a Group E tie in Cotonou, also on Sunday.

The big match
Cameroon-Morocco, Sunday 7 June, Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, Yaoundé
Beware a wounded lion, the saying in Africa goes, but just which one is more hurt. Cameroon's Indomitable Lions were outplayed by Togo when they started their Group A campaign in March in a match on neutral turf with Cameroon spurning a wonderful opportunity to earn early points.

The game had been billed as a match-up between Africa's top two strikers - Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon and the lanky Togolese Emmanuel Adebayor, whose performance on the day was far superior to that of the Barcelona ace. But Eto'o is back on a high after his goal in last week's UEFA Champions League final last week.

For the Lions of the Atlas, top marksman Marouane Chamakh has pulled out of the game with injury, just a week after helping Bordeaux to a first French Ligue 1 title in a decade. It is a blow to Roger Lemerre, who took over in July in the hope of restoring Morocco to a preeminent position in African football's pecking order after they missed out on the last two FIFA World Cup finals. But a home defeat by Gabon in Casablanca in March -arguably one of the biggest upsets of the 2010 preliminaries - has turned Morocco's hopes on their head and heaped pressure on the taciturn French trainer.

The other games
After five goals at home in their last game, Cote d'Ivoire now seek to prove their credential away with a tricky trip to Guinea. It is a team the Elephants have regularly trampled on in the past, but Conakry is always a testing venue and with several injuries, the Ivorians are not as forceful as coach Vahid Halilhodzic would like.

Algeria and Egypt have previously played out some tempestuous FIFA World Cup qualifiers and the build-up to Sunday's game in Blida has already seen an extraordinary outburst from Rabah Saadane, the Algeria coach tearfully bemoaning the intense pressure he and his team are under. Mali and Ghana's meeting in Bamako could be an early indication of who will top Group D. Stephen Keshi's side have home advantage but Ghana's Black Stars have grown in confidence in recent performances.

Player to watch
The skills of the diminutive Kalu Uche found a wider international audience with a strong display of individual talent in St Etienne on Tuesday when he helped Nigeria to a 1-0 away win over France in a warm-up game. It was a significant morale booster for Shaibu Amodu's team and provides Nigeria with yet another go-to-man, leaving the Super Eagles' coach with a selection headache ahead of Sunday's match against Kenya in Abuja.

The stat
18 goals in seven qualifying matches has elevated Burkina Faso into serious contenders. Their Qatari-based striker Moumouni Dagano is the top goal scorer in the continental preliminaries, his nine goals outshining international stars like Eto'o and Mali's Freddie Kanoute, who have six each. Burkina Faso are unbeaten in their campaign but have a tough task in Malawi on Saturday.

They said
"This match in Libreville won't be easy. But we'll try to stay calm and give our best to get the three points," Togo star striker Emmanuel Adebayor ahead of Sunday's Group A tie in Gabon.

African Zone qualifying, final phase, Matchday 2 fixtures
Saturday 6 June
Zambia-Rwanda, Malawi-Burkina Faso, Gabon-Togo, Tunisia-Mozambique
Sunday 7 June
Cameroon-Morocco, Benin-Sudan, Nigeria-Kenya, Guinea-Cote d'Ivoire, Mali-Ghana, Algeria-Egypt