The one-off tie between Somalia and Djibouti is one of three preliminaries being played in Africa this weekend in the early stages of the long road to South Africa in 2010. There is also a first-ever international in the Comoros islands and a rare match in Bissau.

Somalia have not played a home game since 1986, a 21-year hiatus caused by ongoing civil unrest.

But this has not stopped the Somalis from entering FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers. The last two editions they were forced to play both legs of the their preliminary round ties away in Cameroon and Ghana.

In the qualifying campaign for Japan/Korea they earned applause from the home crowd despite going down 3-0 to Cameroon in both matches while Ghana also found that the Somalians possessed a combative spirit and had to settle for a 7-0 aggregate triumph when many expected a goal deluge over the three hours of football.

Somalia, despite its troubles, have also continued to enter the annual East and Central African Senior Challenge Cup, where they first played against Djibouti in 1994 and won 2-1. They have since drawn and won once again, 2-1, against the small Red Sea state who host Friday's match on their new artificial surface, installed under FIFA's 'Win in Africa with Africa' programme.

Somalia's own stadium has long been a military camp for an array of forces that have controlled the capital Mogadishu, including Americans, Islamists and Ethiopians. Organised football is still sporadic but 31 games played over the last two decades attest to a determination to keep the game alive, despite the massive obstacles.

It was during the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals that the Islamic group that then controlled the capital ordered screenings of finals matches to stop only to overturn their own edict because of widespread popular protests.

On Sunday, the Comoros Islands play a first-ever home international, also on their new artificial turf in Moroni. But they will need a massive upset to overturn a 6-2 deficit from last month's first leg in Madagascar, where Faneva Ima Andriatsimba scored four goals to ensure a comprehensive win for the hosts.

Island dreams
Madagascar will have an FC Nantes reserve back in their squad plus they added two more French-based players for the short trip north to the Comoros. They are Andriatsimba's team mate Paulin Voavy and midfielder Johan Paul, who is on the books of Pau in France's national league.

Footballers from Cyprus, Portugal, Romania and Spain are in Bissau to help Guinea Bissau attempt to get past Sierra Leone in their preliminary round tie. The former Portuguese colony have handed themselves a fighting chance by only losing 1-0 in the first leg in Freetown last month.

"These players had added an extra dimension to our tactics," said Guinea Bissau coach Baciro Cande, who was also in charge when Guinea Bissau played in the Germany 2006 preliminaries, losing to Mali over two legs in the preliminary round in late 2003.