The expression ‘Slow and steady wins the race' is a familiar on to sports fans, where many a halfway leader has been pipped at the post. It is also a fitting analogy for the current African Zone qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, in which several countries have been taking steady strides towards next year's showpiece event.
Group A: Lions no longer kings
Out in front: Though Gabon were expected to suffer in the Lions' clutches, neither the Atlas Lions from Morocco or the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have been able to keep up with Alain Giresse's Panthers. Togo, meanwhile, have been unable to build on their opening victory over Cameroon.
Worrying times: Morocco may still be in with a shout, but with just two points from three games, next year's finals in South Africa look beyond their reach. Moreover, with his frontline continuing to misfire (one goal so far), under-fire coach Roger Lemerre knows his side must win their remaining games and hope their rivals slip up.
Key match: Morocco 1-2 Gabon, 28 March. Morocco got off to the worst possible start by losing at their stronghold in Casablanca. In their following game, Gabon's talent was again to the fore as they swept aside Emmanuel Adebayor's Togo 3-0.
In the press: "Given the so-called Atlas Lions' pitiful performance against Togo, we must recognise that our defeat to Gabon was definitely not a one-off." Le Matin (Moroccan daily)
Group B: Eagles struggle to take off
Out in front: Joint favourites Tunisia and Nigeria remain on course to fight it out for qualification from the group, with section rivals Kenya and Mozambique consigned to the role of also-rans. The Super Eagles lost ground in Mozambique after a scoreless draw in their opening game, but flew home from Tunisia with a valuable point from their last outing. The table-topping clash between Nigeria and Tunisia in Abuja on 6 September should go a long way towards deciding the group winners.
Worrying times: While hopeful that their team can get a result in Abuja, Tunisian fans will be taking nothing for granted, despite having qualified for the last three FIFA World Cup finals. On current form, fellow group rivals Kenya and Mozambique will have to make do with a battle for third place.
Key match: Tunisia 0-0 Nigeria, 20 June. Despite creating a host of chances, Humberto Coelho's men were unable to break down a Nigerian side who had come in search of a point. The Super Eagles will be hoping to build on that result in the return match and overtake their rivals at the top of the table.
In the press: "We needed to beat the Nigerians to give ourselves a comfortable lead at the top, but good intentions alone were not enough to deny the Nigerians a point. We needed to be as strong as possible in all aspects of our game and pick the right players to achieve this." Le temps (Tunisian daily)
Group C: Desert Foxes no longer in hiding
Out in front: Algeria are hot favourites after wins against Egypt and Zambia. With a young team that are solid in defence, hardworking in midfield and efficient up front, the Desert Foxes are on course to send the nation into raptures with their first FIFA World Cup appearance since 1986.
Worrying times: Spirits in the Pharaohs' camp remain at a low ebb following the defeat in Algeria that left them bottom of the group behind Zambia and Rwanda. Their hopes of reaching South Africa 2010 were dealt a further blow at the ongoing FIFA Confederations Cup, where they failed to survive the group stages.
Key match: Algeria 3-1 Egypt, 7 June. Algerian fans had been looking for a performance of this magnitude for 20 years, and this historic win over fierce rivals Egypt could prove the catalyst for a long-awaited return to the game's premier event.
In the press: "Les Verts' fate is in their own hands and they must continue winning to keep the dream alive in country where the national team is the only escape from day-to-day problems." El Watan (Algerian daily).
Group D: Black Stars flying high
Out in front: It was thought that Mali and Benin could make life difficult for Ghana, but the Black Stars have shot into a five-point lead with three wins from three, undoubtedly helped by Michael Essien's return from injury for this final qualification round.
Worrying times: Boasting household names from some of the biggest clubs in Europe, much was expected of the Malian Eagles, but after a draw in Sudan and a home loss to Ghana, Stephen Keshi's charges are in deep trouble.
Key match: Mali 0-2 Ghana, 7 June. With Momo Sissoko and Mahamadou Diarra missing, the Malians could not cope with the Black Stars' power and experience in midfield and no longer have their fate in their own hands.
In the press: "The Ghanaians showed their superiority against the Eagles of Mali and now stand a great chance of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup." The Graphic (Ghanaian daily)
Group E: Elephants trample opposition
Out in front: With maximum points from three games, Côte d'Ivoire have most definitely justified their favourite's tag. A talented crop of players along with the discipline imposed by Vahid Hallilodzic have set the Elephants well on their way to a second consecutive FIFA World Cup.
Worrying times: Despite a host of talented youngsters, Guinea have yet to find the key to success, with two defeats in three games. Outdone by Burkina Faso, the Syli National have already bid farewell to coach Robert Nouzaret as well as any lingering FIFA World Cup hopes.
Key match: Burkina Faso 2-3 Côte d'Ivoire, 20 June. Having won their first two matches, the Stallions' perfect start was abruptly halted as they went down 3-2 at home to the Ivorians, thus leaving the path to qualification clear for Didier Drogba and Co.
In the press: "With three wins from three, the Elephants are well on the way to a second FIFA World Cup, even if we're a team of talented individuals rather than a cohesive unit." Le Nouveau Réveil (Côte d'Ivoire daily)