Stevanovic set for bow, Botswana seek lift

Troublesome midfielder Sulley Muntari will get another chance to redeem his Ghana reputation against Togo tomorrow in one of three friendlies involving African teams. New Black Stars coach Goran Stevanovic has revealed his priorities include sorting out problems with the 26-year-old, who was in and out of the squad under his predecessor Milovan Rajevac.

Muntari recently joined Premier League side Sunderland, on loan from Inter Milan until the end of the season, and his new team-mates include compatriots John Mensah and Asamoah Gyan. Centre-back Mensah is also in line to face the Sparrowhawks, but a suspension rules out African Footballer of the Year runner-up Gyan after he was red carded against Sudan last October.

Blackpool goalkeeper Richard Kingson, who has conceded an alarmingly number of goals lately, and Fulham defender John Pantsil are other England-based players in the Ghana squad.

The match in the Belgian port city Antwerp is Stevanovic's first in charge of the highest-positioned African team on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and the former Partizan coach has a tough act to follow. Fellow Serb Rajevac took a severely depleted squad to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2010 final and to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ quarter-finals five months later, before being wooed to Saudi Arabia.

Stevanovic believes the Togo fixture is the first step down a road he hopes will lead to Ghana conquering Africa at the Cup of Nations 2012, which will be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Togo are ranked 24th in Africa and without retired striker Emmanuel Adebayor - on loan to Real Madrid from Manchester City - stand little chance of making it to the next Cup of Nations.

Ivorian strength
Côte d'Ivoire will boast a strong spine of defender Kolo Toure, midfielder Yaya Toure, and forwards Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou when they face Mali in the south-east French town Valence.

However, Mali coach Alain Giresse is not intimidated. "I know the Ivorian playing pattern well and believe we can achieve the win needed to restore confidence," he said.

Minnows Botswana are on the verge of a first Cup of Nations appearance after shock home and away victories over Tunisia, and will get precious practice from playing Mozambique in Maputo.

A further 13 friendlies featuring African teams are scheduled for Wednesday as teams fine-tune their preparations for the third round of African Cup of Nations qualifiers at the end of March.