Côte d'Ivoire head a list of pretenders to the established powers of African football, emerging in recent years among the new forces on the continental scene. Qualification for the last FIFA World Cup™ finals in Germany was proof of the Elephants' march up the top of the African football ladder, but whether it has been just a fleeting dalliance or is a permanent move will be verified in the qualifying campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa.
The Ivorians are among 44 countries who begin the group phase of the African Zone qualifiers this weekend. CAF will have a record six representatives in the tournament, including hosts South Africa, giving added incentive to all those competing. Saturday and Sunday will see 22 matches played across Africa as the bulk of the contenders make their debut in the 2010 preliminaries. Join FIFA.com for a look ahead at groups Seven to 12
Group 7: Côte d'Ivoire will take an unexpectedly lightweight attack into their game against Mozambique in Abidjan on Sunday with former African Footballer of the Year Didier Drogba and his regular frontline partner Aruna Dindane out of the opening group match. Injuries have left new coach Vahid Halilhodzic forced to call-up several newcomers for his home debut, but he has had the benefit of two warm-up games in Japan over the last 10 days to determine his selection. Mozambique are warming up for the match in neighbouring Ghana with their Dutch coach Mart Nooij able to call on a full strength squad, again led by the experienced 34-year-old striker Tico-Tico. Madagascar, having had a FIFA suspension lifted in the last month, have been scrambling to get ready for their tie away in Botswana on Saturday. Mickael Andrianasy takes over as coach after the preliminary round win over the Comoros Islands last year and has called up a 21-year-old from French amateur club US Lormont, Herimanjaka Ramahandry, for a potential debut.
Group 8: Morocco may still be awaiting the arrival of new coach Roger Lemerre on 1 July but they are still favourites to take top place in the group. They begin their campaign in Casablanca on Saturday with Fathi Jamal in charge as caretaker and keen to keep up the unexpectedly positive start he made when his side beat Belgium 4-1 away in March. Ethiopia also have a new coach in Abraham Teklehaimanot, who last month signed a two-year contract but has had little time to work with his players. Mauritania have been training in Rwanda since last weekend in anticipation of their meeting in Kigali on Saturday. The game will also introduce two new coaches, with former French international Alain Moizan taking charge of Mauritania's Mourabitounes and Branko Tucak leading Rwanda, who have veteran captain Hamad Ndikumana back in the team.
Group 9: Roger Lemerre takes charge of Tunisia for his last skirmish at the end of a six-year tenure, seeing out their next four matches at the start of the qualifiers. He is seeking to build enough of a platform to see the North Africans off in the right direction for a fourth successive FIFA World Cup finals appearance. They play in Rades on Sunday against Burkina Faso, who are hoping to set aside a disappointing run of form in the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign. Les Etalons have a new Portuguese coach, Paulo Duarte, who has included seven uncapped players in a new-look squad. The Seychelles have brought Dutch coach Jan Mak in to take over the side for the next month. His first assignment is an away match in Bujumbura against Burundi's Intamba on Sunday.
Group 10: FIFA have postponed the Sudan-Chad match because of political tension between the two countries, leaving Mali and Congo to take centre stage in Bamako on Sunday. Former Nigeria captain Stephen Keshi makes his debut as Mali coach with a star-studded outfit at his disposal, including recent Barcelona signing Seydou Keita and reigning African Footballer of the Year Frederic Kanoute. The Sevilla striker has been on a celebratory lap of congratulatory functions with his trophy this week, receiving deserved accolades for his performances at both club and international level over the last years. Congo have Ivica Todorov in charge and have been training in France.
Group 11: Eritrea have withdrawn from the group handing Swaziland a bye on the first weekend of action. But Togo and Zambia renew a lively rivalry last played out in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers when the Togolese finished top of the group to qualify for Germany and Zambia ended third in the standings after also being in contention for much of the campaign. Two new French coaches come up against each other in Accra, Ghana, where Togo have taken the game after being banned from using their home ground in Lome following violence in the last Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Henri Stambouli only signed as Togo coach on Wednesday and is parachuted into a tough encounter while Herve Renard took over last month as the new coach of Zambia, his first major assignment after serving as assistant to Claude Le Roy in Ghana. Renard has had two warm-up games to learn more about his new charges, a draw in Libya and a narrow loss in Iran in the last week.
Group 12: Djibouti won a first-ever international when they beat Somalia in the preliminary round of the South Africa 2010 qualifiers last November but will be on a steep learning curve when they face Malawi in Blantyre on Saturday. In their only previous away match in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, the tiny Red Sea state shipped in nine goals in Kinshasa against DR Congo , who are also in the same group. Malawi will set their sights on a handsome win but the two favourite contenders, the Congolese and African champions Egypt, meet in Cairo on Sunday. Egypt have had just one match since winning the Cup of Nations in February, losing 2-0 to Argentina at home in March. The Congolese have had fulsome preparations in France and the encounter is primed to be a no-holds barred, all-action clash.