Africa's scrap for places at the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals reaches a crucial juncture this weekend with the final round of matches in the first group phase. From 46 remaining teams, the field will be whittled down to 20 by Sunday evening.
Only three sides have already made sure of their place, meaning that drama is assured as the other 17 are decided over the coming days. FIFA.com looks at the race group-by-group, starting today with Groups 1 to 6.
Group 1: Cameroon have already won the section and secured a place in the next phase. Their opponents in Yaounde, bottom-placed Mauritius, fired coach Ashok Chundunsing after their 4-1 loss at home to Tanzania in their last qualifier and have put former international defender Benjamin Theodore in temporary charge. The Cape Verde Islands have sealed second place but may still need a point to ensure they finish among the eight best-placed runners-up, who also go into the draw for the third round.
Group 2: Not for the first time, Guinea need a home win to make sure of qualification having made a habit in recent years of securing success late in the preliminary process. On Saturday, the Syli Nationale will take top spot if they beat Kenya in Conakry; any other result will leave them perilously placed. Kenya have surprised many observers by amassing 10 points from their first five matches and a draw will now ensure that they top the group. Even if they lose, they may yet still progress as one of the best runners-up. If Guinea fail to win, the door will be open for Zimbabwe to finish second, but they must win away in Namibia.
Group 3: Angola will seek to put the shock resignation of their inspirational coach behind them when they host Niger on Sunday. The Palancas Negras' preparations were certainly handed a major blow with the departure of Luis Oliveira Goncalves, who announced his resignation at the weekend, just eight days before the key tie. Angola must win the game to have any chance of taking second place in the group behind Benin. Manucho is likely to make his FIFA World Cup debut alongside Flavio up front as Angola go for goals. Should they fail, Uganda could still slip into second place but they must overcome a confident Benin in Kampala.
Group 4: Nigeria have already secured top spot and could end the first group phase as the only team with an unblemished record should they beat Sierra Leone in Abuja. While John Obi Mikel and John Utaka have withdrawn, there is a first call-up for Oluwafemi Ajilore, who was such a sensation at the recent Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008. Sierra Leone are aiming to finish second but could yet be usurped by South Africa, who are seeking an away win against Equatorial Guinea.
Group 5: The possibility of a three-way tie at the top of the standings is a distinct possibility as Ghana host Lesotho and leaders Libya travel to Gabon. The Libyans hold a three point lead but their hosts can cut the gap and join them on 12 points with victory in Libreville on Saturday. The return of Daniel Cousin and Fabrice do Marcelino adds to Alain Giresse's hopes of a fourth win in six matches for the Gabonese. However, Libya need only avoid defeat to top the standings. Ghana are firm favourites to move on to 12 points when they host pointless Lesotho in Sekondi. Ghana, meanwhile, are without the injured Michael Essien, but have recalled Dutch-based striker Matthew Amoah.
Group 6: A single-point advantage might just be enough for Algeria to banish recent demons and win a place among the last 20 African sides seeking to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals. They play away in Monrovia against a Liberia side who are condemned to last place in the standings and, as such, have not chosen a full strength line-up for Saturday's match. However, if Algeria fail, the winner of the derby between Senegal and Gambia in Dakar will progress. Senegal coach Lamine Ndiaye has been in temporary charge since the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in January but will be well aware he could be handed the job permanently if Senegal progress.