There will be high hopes for almost all the protagonists in what looks likely to be an exclusively Francophone group as each side chases a maiden appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ finals. While Burkina Faso are the seeded team in Group E, both Gabon and Niger will believe they have a chance to progress past the second stage of the continent’s ultimate qualifying campaign for the 2014 finals. Even Congo, who compete in a first round against Sao Tome e Principe, will be buoyant about their chances, seeing as they possess a new generation of exciting talent.

Burkina Faso provided the top scorer in the African zone qualifying for South Africa 2010 in Moumouni Dagano but they were beaten to a place in the finals by Côte d’Ivoire. Congo came closest to reaching the FIFA World Cup in 1998, while Gabon pushed Cameroon all the way in the 2010 qualifiers before succumbing on the final match day of the preliminary campaign. Niger have suddenly come of age in the current CAF Africa Cup of Nations where they have a chance to reach the finals for the first time.

The favourites
Burkina Faso’s Stallions are a dogged side with a competitive streak, and are increasingly difficult to contend with on the African football circuit. They were the side that created the early shockwaves in the 2010 qualifiers by beating Tunisia away and topping their second round group. Portuguese coach Paulo Duarte has been in the job since 2008 providing the necessary stability.

The outsiders
Gabon: As hosts of the next AFCON finals, Gabon have a chance to set new benchmarks for their football and, at the same time, gain the necessary confidence to become real contenders in the 2014 FIFA World Cup preliminaries.

Niger: The up-and-coming Mena have proved themselves capable of pulling off shocks against larger teams, a 1-0 victory over Egypt in October 2010 being the perfect example.

Players to watch
Jonathan Pitroipa, Alain Traore (BFA), Delvin Ndinga (CGO), Didier Ovono, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (GAB), Moussa Maazou (NIG)

The crunch match
Niger-Burkina Faso
There are several key clashes in the offing in this group but the crunch could come at Niger’s Stade General Seyi Kountche when Burkina Faso travel across the Sahara to meet their neighbours in Niamey. Although Burkina Faso have the better ranking, Niger have had the upper hand in 11 past meetings with four wins, five draws and just two defeats.

A look back
South Africa 1-0 Congo, 16 August 1997, Johannesburg
The old Soccer City in Johannesburg was packed to the rafters for a match which offered both Congo and Bafana Bafana a chance to reach the 1998 FIFA World Cup finals in France. Phil Masinga scored a stunning long-range shot to give the home side the lead but South Africa were on the back foot for most of the game before holding on to deny Congo their dream.

The stat
8 -
The number of years since Sao Tome e Principe last played an A international, losing 8-0 in Libya in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. If they do not have a warm-up game before November’s meeting with Congo, it will be some 96 months of inactivity for their team.

Did you know?
Gabon first entered the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in 1966, but it was not until more than 20 years later that they played their first qualifier in January of 1979 against Nigeria.

Have your say
Is this the most open of all the groups in the African zone qualifying?