The Atlas Lions look to be comfortably ahead of their fellow contenders, with a group of 30 or so players operating in the best leagues in Europe. In addition, the north Africans have veteran coach Henri Michel pulling the strings for a second time, the Frenchman having taken over in August 2007 following a previous stint between 1995 and 2000.

Morocco are chasing a fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup™ appearance, but behind them the race looks very open for a potential berth in the second qualifying group round. As perennial CAF Africa Cup of Nations outsiders, Ethiopia must be considered outsiders here as well, while Rwanda are a team on the rise after emerging as the surprise-package at the 2004 continental showcase.

The favourites
Henri Michel knows Morocco extremely well and will be vying to lead them to the FIFA World Cup for the second time. He previously achieved that feat in 1998, and he also experienced the world's foremost sporting event with France in 1986 and Côte d'Ivoire in 2006. The Frenchman's return coincides with a renewed optimism among the Moroccans, who have just about recovered from their last-gasp elimination by Tunisia on the road to the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany.

The outsiders
Ethiopia: In slight decline over the last decade, Ethiopia nevertheless boast a rich history. They triumphed in the 1962 CAF Africa Cup of Nations on their own soil and participated eight times in the final phase of that tournament between 1957 and 1976. Great teams never die, as the saying goes, and it is time for Ethiopia to prove it.

The players to watch
Marouane Chamakh, Youssouf Hadji, Hicham Aboucherouane (Morocco)

The crunch match
Rwanda - Morocco. If the Rwandans can continue the progress shown in recent years, they could well topple a Moroccan side noted for inconsistency.

A look back
Rwanda - Ethiopia, 10 May 1981, Kigali. In a qualifier for the 1982 CAN, the Ethiopians downed their hosts on penalties in Kigali. It was undoubtedly Ethiopia's last great performance on the continental stage.

The Stat
91: like the number of FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking places separating Morocco and Mauritania in November 2007. The Atlas Lions occupy 39 th spot, way ahead of Mauritania in 130 th place.

Did you know?
Morocco have beaten Ethiopia each time the sides have faced in a competitive match, racking up four wins and 11 goals, with no goals conceded.

The question
Who will be able to cause Morocco problems in this group? Click below on 'Add your comment' and give your opinion.