For 22 African teams the road leading to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ begins this weekend as they embark on a long journey that eventually will hand five sides from the continent a prized ticket to the world's showpiece football event.
Of the 52 countries that entered the competition, the 24 with the lowest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking (as of July 2011) were placed into Round One, where they were paired into 12 home-and-away ties. Mauritius subsequently dropped out of qualifying, so Liberia advanced without a kick of the ball. For the others, the first legs will be played on Friday and Saturday with the returns scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. FIFA.com previews all the action ahead of the opening round of games this weekend.
The big game
Seychelles-Kenya, 11 November, Stade Linite, Roche Caiman, 17:00 (local time)
Going into the last round of qualifiers for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations last month, Kenya were still in with a chance of making the finals. However, a goalless draw in Kampala against Uganda saw the Harambee Stars miss out on a trip to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Just over a month later, they have a chance to restore some momentum against up-and-coming Seychelles, who won the most recent Indian Ocean Islands Games. Kenya coach Francis Kimanzi, who was given back the job of leading the side just last week, has called up a number of foreign-based players, including captain Dennis Oliech, who plays his club football for Auxerre. The side suffered a set-back on Tuesday though as inspirational midfielder Macdonald Mariga had to withdraw from the team after the Real Sociedad player suffered a thumb injury.
Claude Le Roy, one of the most familiar faces in recent African football history, returns to the big stage after the Frenchman took over the Congo DR coaching reins in September to embark on his second spell in charge of the Leopards. On paper his side will be favourites to reach the next round against Swaziland, but Swazi Technical Director Boy ‘Bizzah’ Mkhonta had some words of advice for his players. "Our players should not worry about their opponents. They should just concentrate on the task at hand and everything else will fall into place," he said.
Mozambique, who are the highest-ranked team in Round One, will expect few problems from their tie against Comoros, while Namibia will also fancy their chances in Djibouti. Football fans in the tiny country in the Horn of Africa are in the envious position of being able to see two FIFA World Cup qualifiers within the space of two days after Somalia's home game against Ethiopia was moved to Djibouti due to the insecurity in Mogadishu. The East African derby match between the two neighbouring countries is the only one scheduled for Saturday and Wednesday.
Togo, who have achieved little since being a surprise finalist at Germany 2006, are away to Guinea-Bissau in their first leg match. Surprisingly, the Sparrow Hawks have received a major pre-match boost with the news that Emmanuel Adebayor, who retired from international football last year, has agreed to return to the fold.
Equatorial Guinea, who will co-host the Cup of Nations early next year, finally get a chance to test their form ahead of the competition when they greet Madagascar in Malabo. Henri Michel's side call upon a group of Spanish-born and based players, possibly including 34-year-old Rodolfo Bodipo Diaz, who provides experience as captain for the country of his father. Underdogs Lesotho and Eritrea will host Burundi and Rwanda respectively, while Chad will hope to earn a lead for buffer in the home leg against Tanzania.
Did you know?
Frenchman Jean-Guy Wallemme will embark on his first real African coaching stint as he takes his Congo side to Sao Tome e Principe. The former Lens defender took over the Diables Rouges with two games to go in the Cup of Nations qualifiers - after they had already been eliminated – and he is now hoping to leave a mark in his first national team job.
Player to watch
Tresor Mputu (COD)
Well-travelled coach Claude Le Roy once famously described Mputu as the next Samuel Eto'o, and the explosive striker led TP Mazembe to CAF Champions League success. However, he then received a worldwide 12-month ban for violent conduct, which obviously derailed his growth as a player and icon. But since the ban ended a few months ago, Mputu is back for the Leopards, and Le Roy, who rejoined the side for the second time after stints with Ghana, Oman and Syria, has recalled the 25-year-old, who is no doubt hungry to get back among the goals.
What they said
"We have not seen video of them, so we don't know how they play, but we are going to try to use that to our advantage by hitting back at them from counters." Kenya coach Francis Kimanzi ahead of his side's game away to Seychelles.
11 & 15 November
Sao Tome e Principe-Congo
12 & 16 November