Two unlikely front-runners, Burkina Faso and Rwanda, have emerged in the African qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
While it still might be early days in the battle for places at South Africa 2010, the pair are looking for the points this weekend that will virtually ensure their progress through to the last phase of the preliminaries. While Burkina Faso are expected to achieve that on Saturday, it is going to be a lot tougher for Rwanda, who are away to past FIFA World Cup finalists Morocco.
FIFA.com looks at the state of play in Groups 7 to 12 ahead of this weekend's qualifying matches.
Group 7: The 2006 FIFA World Cup finalists Côte d'Ivoire have been depleted by injuries and absentees, yet have managed to keep up an unbeaten run. They have played two successive away games and drawn both, but now return to Abidjan to take on Botswana, who held them to a 1-1 draw in Gaborone last Saturday. Botswana's coach Stanley Tshosane said silly mistakes cost the Zebras the chance of a famous win, but they were determined not to be overawed in the Ivorian capital. Mozambique are still seeking their first group win and must be fancied to take the three points at home against Madagascar, who appointed a new coach in Frank Rajaonarisamba on Monday.
Group 8: Rwanda are unlikely leaders with a full haul of points, proving their potential last weekend when they beat a depleted Morocco team 3-1. Now they play against the Atlas Lions for a second successive week, but this time in Casablanca where their opponents will surely be a different proposition. But Rwanda coach Branko Tukac says: "We will not be going to Casablanca to defend. Defending will only make us susceptible, thus allowing them to attack us." Ethiopia host Mauritania in their other group match needing a home win to keep in touch with the front pair.
Group 9: Tunisia say farewell to coach Roger Lemerre, after a spell of close to six years in charge, this weekend with what should be a routine home assignment against Burundi. But even if they win, Tunisia are still likely to be trailing behind Burkina Faso in the standings. The Burkinabe are one of three sides with a 100 percent record and are not likely to have their winning run halted by the Indian Ocean islanders in Ouagadougou on Saturday. Tunisia captain Radhi Jaidi scored the goal that beat Burundi 1-0 away last weekend but a yellow card in that game means he is suspended.
Group 10: Mali are still group leaders, although they lost for the first time when Sudan beat them 3-2 last Saturday night, despite a double from Frederic Kanoute. The Sevilla striker will be looking to take his tally of national team goals past the 15-mark when they meet in Bamako again this weekend. Congo meet Chad in Brazzaville, a week after Chad upset the Congolese in Ndjamena to get their first points of the campaign. Chad have never won an away tie in a competitive international, but will have drawn much heart from a rare win, only their second ever in a FIFA World Cup qualifier.
Group 11: Swaziland are wary of a backlash from their Zambian hosts in Chililabombwe after a goalless draw between the two teams last weekend. Swaziland coach Ephraim Mashaba says he fears his players, who are top of the standings, might get stage fright in their first away game. Zambia play at home for the first time in the campaign after the withdrawal from the group of Eritrea, which means Togo have a bye again this weekend.
Group 12: A three way tie at the top of the standings, and at the midway point of the group games, makes for a potentially thrilling finish to the group in October. African champions Egypt seek revenge after a last-gasp loss to Malawi last weekend, while the Democratic Republic of Congo will go for goals against Djibouti, who previously played in Kinshasa in 2000 and lost 9-1. The tiny Red Sea state is finding the rigour of FIFA World Cup competition beyond their ability, and they have shipped an average of six goals per game so far. Away in Kinshasa on Sunday, it promises to be even more. Egypt will be buoyed by the return to the front-line of Emad Moteab and Amr Zaki when they face Malawi in Cairo on Sunday.