In contrast to their tough qualifying groups for Germany 2006, when they found themselves up against Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon, and 2002 where they battled against Morocco and Senegal, Egypt's Pharaohs have managed to avoid bumping into any other continental giants this time around. At least on paper, neither Algeria, Zambia nor Rwanda possess the wealth of talent enjoyed by Egypt, who will be counting on the close-knit nature of a squad dominated by Al Ahly players.

The reigning CAF Africa Cup of Nations champions have some of the continent's best footballers among their ranks, including Amr Zaki and Mohamed Aboutrika, who were both nominated by CAF for their Player of the Year award this year. The Pharaohs' closest rivals, Algeria, harbour strong ambitions despite their failure to appear on the world stage since 1986. They boast a squad which includes a collection of European-based stars honed by the cut and thrust of the continent's top championships, while Zambia are always a side to watch for.

The favourites
Egypt: Egypt will only have themselves to blame if they fail to make it to the finals this time. Despite being the most successful team on the continent, winning the Cup of Nations for a record six times, the Pharaohs have only played at two FIFA World Cups™ in 1934 and 1990. Coach Hassan Shehata will be banking on the experience accumulated by his contingent of players from Al Ahly, the winners of the CAF Champions League in 2005 and 2006 and last year's runners-up. Surprisingly, only six members of the squad play outside of Egypt, including stars Zaki and Mohamed Zidan.

The outsiders
Algeria: The Algerian fans are unsurprisingly keen for a return to those days when the Fennecs stunned West Germany in the FIFA World Cup finals in 1982, and despite their 22-year absence from world football's showpiece event, with 1986 marking their last appearance, their national side look to be finding their feet again slowly. The team has had 34 coaches since independence in 1962, however, and the much-anticipated renaissance is unlikely to happen without a little stability in the dugout.

Zambia: French coach Herve Renaud has strong faith in the former Zambia U-20 side who participated in the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 and is seeking to draw a new generation of players to challenge for places at South Africa 2010 in support of his overseas-based players, like captain Chris Katongo, who plays for Danish side Brondby.

Rwanda: Rwanda's Croatian coach Branko Tucak, knows that his side are the underdogs in this group, and while the chances of staging an upset are slim, they will be dreaming of a miracle.

The players to watch
Mohamed Aboutrika (EGY), Mohamed Zidan (EGY), Amr Zaki (EGY), Rafik Saifi (ALG) Karim Ziani (ALG) Christopher Katongo (ZAM) Joseph Musonda
(ZAM), Abedi Said (RWA).

The crunch match
Algeria-Egypt: An intense North African derby can be expected when these two teams renew their long-standing rivalry.

A look back
Egypt-Algeria, 17 November 1989: A goal by Hossam Hassan earned Egypt a 1-0 victory over their rivals and a place at Italy 1990. The match was witnessed by a record crowd of 120,000 in the giant Cairo stadium.

Did you know?

Egypt became the first African team to participate in the FIFA World Cup in 1934. They have since appeared at the world finals only once, in 1990.

The stat

22 - The number of years since Algeria last played at the FIFA World Cup.

The question
Can Zambia surprise the North African duo of Egypt and Algeria and reach the world finals for the first time in their history? Click ‘Add your comment' to make your opinion known.