The penultimate round of 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers will take place this weekend as a handful of giants face elimination and a group of unheralded sides aim to signal the start of a new era.
Three-time defending champions Egypt may finally fall of the cliff in Group G, but a win in Sierra Leone may revive their hopes of sneaking in as one of the two best second place teams. Nigeria and Cameroon are also hoping to make up points, while Ghana are trying to hold off a pesky challenge from Sudan and join Côte d’Ivoire and Botswana, as well as co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, in reaching January’s continental finals.
Group A: All to play for
All four teams are within three points of each other, from Cape Verde Islands on seven to Liberia with four. Those two face difficult away trips to Mali and Zimbabwe respectively that could set up a dramatic last qualifying day at the start of October. The Sharks of Cape Verde can qualify for their first finals if they win in Bamako and Zimbabwe do not beat the Liberians.
Group B: Eagles want away win
Leaders Guinea won 4-1 in Addis Ababa so they would be expected to win at home this weekend against Ethiopia, and Nigeria will be favoured to keep pace on the road against a young Madagascar team. Three points behind after losing in Conakry on the second matchday, the Super Eagles host the Guineans in the last round, which means every goal will count.
Group C: Zambia try to break away
Zambia have nine points and Libya fell one behind after drawing away to Comoros in the last round. The Zambians make this same trip this weekend as the Libyans ‘host’ Mozambique in Cairo due to the ongoing turmoil in the country. The Copper Bullets can qualify with a win and a Libyan loss, and they also have the advantage of hosting their main rivals in the final round.
Group D: Leaders to meet
Morocco travel to Bangui to meet Central African Republic for the top of the table as both sides are on seven points. The pair drew in Rabat in the opening round, but a similar result probably won’t help The Wild Beasts as they must travel to Algeria in October while the Moroccans host Tanzania. The Desert Foxes, on four, can put themselves back into the reckoning with a win in Dar-es-Salaam on Saturday despite losing 4-0 to Morocco in June.
Group E: Cameroon play catch-up
Five points behind leaders Senegal, Cameroon are hoping for Congo DR to cause a shock on their weekend trip to Dakar. However, given Senegalese strength at home and the recent resignation of Congolese coach Robert Nouzaret, the Indomitable Lions and coach Javier Clemente may be playing for points and goal difference and looking for one of the best second-place spots at home against Mauritius.
Group F: Gambia try to stay alive
Six points in the lead, Burkina Faso are pulling for Namibia to claim any points at home against Gambia. In the only group with three teams, the Burkinabe have been perfect so far and will qualify ahead of October’s trip to Gambia if the Scorpions slip at all on Saturday.
Group G: Big trip for Bafana
Yet to concede a goal, South Africa are trying to avoid becoming the third team in the group to lose in Niamey and thus hold on to their two-point lead over Niger at the top of the table. Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane has upped the pressure ahead of Sunday’s match by calling Niger’s two home wins ‘a bit lucky’. Six points off the leaders, Egypt are sending their Olympic team to Sierra Leone as Africa prepares for its first continental championship without the Pharaohs in almost three decades.
Group H: Race for second
Côte d’Ivoire have already qualified after winning their first four matches. Rwanda, Burundi and Benin are all on four points and trying to work their way up the table of second-placed teams.
Group I: Pair setting the pace
With ten points each, Ghana and Sudan could both qualify this weekend if they beat Swaziland and Congo respectively. Depending on results in other groups, the pair could sew up one of the second-place spots as the battle for group supremacy looks like it will go down to the final matchday when the Black Stars travel to Omdurman.
Group J: Cranes look to close out
If leaders Uganda can secure at least a point at second Angola, they will reach their first African finals since 1978. Even with a defeat in Luanda, the Cranes would still qualify with a victory at home against Kenya in the last round.
Group K: Flames look to burn Tunisia
The campaign’s biggest shock, Botswana have already claimed the group's top spot, so Malawi will host initial favourites Tunisia as the two battle for the group’s automatic second-place spot in the finals. The pair, who drew 2-2 in Rades last September, are even on ten points with the Tunisians one ahead on goal difference and every goal vital.