Côte d'Ivoire and Tunisia would have been fancied by many pundits to make relatively easy work of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. As it stands, both these veterans of Germany 2006 have got off to stuttering starts in their respective qualifying groups and need to win this weekend to maintain hopes of a trip to South Africa in two years' time.
Swaziland emerged as a surprise package last weekend with a victory over Togo and the potential for a second successive shock win, this time over Zambia, makes their game on Sunday particularly intriguing. In all, there are 23 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches around Africa this weekend in the 12 qualifying groups, and FIFA.com continues its weekend preview with a look at Groups 7 to 12.
Group 7: Côte d'Ivoire are still licking their
wounds after dropping points against Madagascar last weekend, while
Mozambique have decided to give their coach one more match to
redeem his reputation. This is certainly not the kind of scenario
envisaged before qualifiers started. The Ivorians have had to do
without a plethora of key players for their two group matches so
far, competing without Didier Drogba, Abelkader Keita, Aruna
Dindane, Salomon Kalou, Gneri Yaya Toure and Christian Koffi
N'Dri, otherwise known
It has been a severe test for new coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who has hinted that he has felt let down by many of these big-name absentees. Another setback in Gaborone would put the Ivorians under severe pressure, but even without a full-strength squad, they remain favourites to win Saturday's game against their hosts Botswana. The Zebras' 2-1 win in Mozambique last Sunday went down as one of the shock results of the weekend. Mozambique's federation had an emergency meeting afterwards to discuss the future of coach Mart Nooij, who has been given the dreaded vote of confidence for the trip to Madagascar this weekend.
Group 8: Rwanda are emerging as one of the surprise packages of the qualifiers, but their potential faces a real test when Morocco come calling on Saturday. Both sides have a 100 per cent record in the group thus far, and their meetings over the next two weeks will surely settle the top place in the group. Morocco are missing their Portuguese league-winner Tarik Sektioui, Ukraine-based midfielder Badr El Kaddouri and Anderlecht's Mbark Boussoufa for this weekend's game.
Rwanda, meanwhile, remain in fine spirits after a last-minute winner gave them victory in Addis Ababa against Ethiopia. At the other end of the table, Mauritania and Ethiopia both search for their first points when they play in Nouakchott on Friday. Mauritania sacked Alain Mozain after their 4-1 loss to Morocco last weekend, and will have Mohamed Salem Ould Harouna in the dugout against the Ethiopians.
Group 9: Leaders Burkina Faso can stretch their record to nine points out of a possible nine if they win as expected against the Seychelles in Victoria on Saturday. It was a feat achieved with relative ease last Saturday by the group favourites Tunisia, who won 2-0 against their Indian Ocean island hosts.
Roger Lemerre's penultimate game as Tunisia coach comes against Burundi in Bujumbura on Sunday. Reflecting on the win over the Seychelles, the Morocco-bound coach said: "It was not that easy a game to negotiate, but I was very pleased with the attitude of my players. But we still have our backs to the wall and need to get three more points in our next game."
Group 10: Sudan's status received a major boost with qualification for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations final in Ghana earlier this year. However, just how far they have progressed will come under the microscope when they face unbeaten Mali in Omdurman on Saturday.
The Sudanese started their delayed campaign with defeat in Congo last week, and will be desperate to pick up their first points. Chad, who also suffered defeat last weekend, get a second chance to open their account against Congo in Ndjamena. Congo's 1-0 win at home against Sudan last weekend came despite the absence of captain Oscar Ewolo, whose influence in the midfield was sorely missed.
Group 11: Swaziland could cause a second
successive upset when they
host Zambia at the Somhlolo stadium on Sunday, this just a week after seeing off Germany 2006 qualifiers Togo. There is a further boost for Sihlangu with the return of Mzwandile Dlamini to the team's attack after
an appendix operation.
Zambia start the game under immense pressure because if they fail to win, they face a Herculean task in their remaining two matches. This is the only group with just three competitors, and Togo do not play again until September.
Group 12: Djibouti set off on another damage
limitation exercise in their
home match with Congo DR on Friday, having conceded 12 goals in two group matches already. The Congolese have not made as big an impact as they had hoped for, needing a penalty to pick up their first points last Sunday at the expense of Malawi. Congo DR defender Herita Ilunga misses the match as it coincides with his wedding.
Egypt have several absentees, too, for their game at Malawi on Saturday, including striker Emad Moteab. However, coach Hassan Shehata insists they are still going for all three points, saying: "A win over Malawi is important because it would lift us through to the next phase."