Côte d'Ivoire will need to shake up the neighbourhood if they are to realise their ambition of qualifying for a second successive FIFA World Cup™ finals. The Elephants, who put in an exciting showing in the last finals in Germany in 2006 but did not get past the first round, take on West African rivals Burkina Faso and Guinea in their group, plus the added uncertainty of Malawi's presence. It is a draw that the star-studded Ivorians will not be uncomfortable with, pitting them against regular rivals. Guinea, who snatched top place in their first-round group with a home win over Kenya earlier this month, will pose a tough challenge, along with Burkina Faso, who were unbeaten in the first round. Malawi are the outsiders but their opponents will be wary of the fact that the Flames edged heavyweights Egypt and DR Congo at their fortress in Blantyre.
Côte d'Ivoire: The Elephants were not as convincing as they might have hoped for the first phase of Africa's 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but will point to an injury-hit squad. Key players like Didier Drogba, Aruna Dindane and Abdelkader Keita missed the matches against Botswana, Madagascar and Mozambique because of injury, but will likely be available again for the business end of the preliminaries. Drogba will be invaluable when he returns from injury, as is the case with influential Arsenal defender Kolo Toure, who is ruled out until the end of the year.
Burkina Faso: Two goals in the last ten minutes of their first qualifier in Tunisia set Burkina Faso off on a steady road to success in the South Africa 2010 preliminaries. The momentum of the away win in Tunisia set up a run to the top of the standings and comfortable qualification for the final phase. But coach Paulo Duarte has made it clear that Les Etalons cannot afford to get carried away.
Guinea: The Syli Nationale are unpredictable opponents, capable of beating Africa's best team on their day. For the last three CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, they have reached the quarter-finals, but their real dream is the FIFA World Cup.
Malawi: Priority for the Flames will be to finish in the top three in the group to qualify for the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. But Kimnah Phrti's team are likely to be spoilers too, and the other three sides will do well to be wary of their potential.
The crunch match
Burkina Faso - Côte d'Ivoire: There is a long-standing rivalry between the two neighbours but it is almost ten years since they last met, in a friendly which the Ivorians won in Abidjan as they were preparing for the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations. Ouagadougou has been a veritable fortress for the Burkinabe this year and they will want to keep it so when the Elephants come to town.
A look back
Côte d'Ivoire - Guinea, 5-0, 3 February 2008: Côte d'Ivoire turned on their best performance since beating Serbia in the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals when they thrashed Guinea in Sekondi in their CAF Africa Cup of Nations Cup quarter-final earlier this year, led by the power of Didier Drogba.
Did you know?
Burkina Faso's finest hour on the international stage arrived when they finished third at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2001 in Trinidad and Tobago. Before a crowd of 25,000, they won the third place match against an Argentina team featuring the likes of Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez. Saidou Panandetiguiri and Abdoul Aziz Nikiema, two members of that impressive 2001 cohort, form part of today's senior Burkina Faso squad.
1 - the number of FIFA World Cup finals reached and the number of CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournaments won by the teams in the group combined. Côte d'Ivoire were continental champions in 1992 and went to the last FIFA World Cup finals in Germany.
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