Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire have not put a foot wrong thus far in the final round of the African Zone preliminaries. If results go their way this weekend, the former will have the chance to become the first from their continent to reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ while the latter could make all but sure of a place at next year's showpiece event.
The battle to advance from the other three sections, however, is still perched on a knife's edge. Nigeria, still bitterly disappointed at their failure to make the last tournament in Germany three years ago, can move to the top of Group B with a home win over Tunisia, while Algeria's fate at the head of Group C is also in their own hands. The tussle for supremacy in Group A is expected to make some dramatic shifts over the next five days as Gabon and Cameroon play each other twice, and Morocco travel to Togo on Sunday.
The 20 countries participating in the final phase of the African qualifiers also have their eye on places at January's CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournament. The FIFA World Cup qualifiers serve to determine the field for the continental championship with the top three finishers in each group qualifying for Angola.
Côte d'Ivoire will be well aware of the target ahead of them by the time they kick off their Group E encounter with neighbours Burkina Faso in Abidjan on Saturday. Guinea take on Malawi in the same group earlier in the day in Blantyre and if they do not win, then a home triumph for the Ivorians against the Burkinabe will virtually assure them a place at South Africa 2010. Côte d'Ivoire are unbeaten in their qualification campaign, have a 100 per cent record in the final round group and beat the Burkinabe away from home in Ouagadougou when they last met in June. It is all, therefore, set for up a massive festival of celebration in stark contrast to the sad scenes that followed the stadium tragedy in Abidjan six months ago.
The Chelsea pair of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou will lead the home attack with Marseille's Bakary Kone having withdrawn through injury. It is expected coach Vahid Halilhodzic will play a third striker in the form of Galatasaray's Abdelkader Keita. Only a shock away win will restore Burkina Faso's hopes, after they had begun the qualifying campaign as the form team, winning in Tunisia last year and ending their first round group on top of the standings. They will look to the goalscoring acumen of Moumouni Dagano, still the leading scorer in the African qualifiers, but he will expect extra attention from the likes of Ivorian defensive stalwarts, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue on Saturday.
The other games
Ghana will qualify for the FIFA World Cup if they beat Sudan in Accra on Sunday and if the other Group D match between Mali and Benin ends in a draw. The Black Stars are expected to win a fourth game on the trot against the bottom placed side but will have an eye on proceedings in Cotonou as well, where Mali are fighting for their survival.
Algeria can keep up a three point lead in Group C with a home win late on Sunday night against Zambia, a side they beat easily away in June. It will keep the Fennecs ahead of reigning African champions Egypt, who will fall out of contention if they do not win in Rwanda on Saturday.
Nigeria forced an away draw with Tunisia in their last match but must now beat the powerful north Africans to go ahead in Group B. It was always likely the head-to-head results between the two countries would determine who qualifies for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals and Sunday's game in Abuja is vital for both sides.
Cameroon's trip to Gabon is a test of the famous fighting spirit of the Indomitable Lions, which has often before extricated them from precarious positions. An away win in Libreville is essential if new coach Paul Le Guen is to engineer a turnabout for the five-time FIFA World Cup finalists. Gabon are seeking a third successive win and to retain a firm grip on the group.
Player to watch
Emmanuel Adebayor has long been the inspiration behind the surprise rise of Togo as a continental power and again he is propelling the tiny west African country to a place at the FIFA World Cup finals. Three goals in four matches since his move to Manchester City suggests Adebayor is on top of his game and could punish the visiting Morocco side when the two meet in Lome on Sunday. It is poised for a feverish homecoming for Togo's Eperviers, who return to the capital after a ban meant they hosted their last four ‘home' games in neighbouring Ghana.
2 - The average number of goals per game Burkina Faso (2.3) and Côte d'Ivoire (2.2) have surpassed during the final round, making them the best two attacks in the African Zone.
What they said
"We have not qualified yet and I will demand absolute concentration in these last three matches. And I will be looking out for those players who are ready to sacrifice with me to achieve the ultimate, Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac on the Black Stars quest for qualification