With the first round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying matches starting back in November of 2011, the African Zone is approaching the midpoint of a campaign that will cut 52 CAF associations down to five representatives at the finals. Two rounds of the group stage were completed in June of this year and several surprise nations have asserted themselves in the quest to finish top of the 10 tables to advance to the final preliminary round.

Ethiopia sit atop Group A ahead of South Africa, Benin have a slender advantage on Mali and Algeria in Group H, while Libya are surprise leaders of Group I in front of Cameroon and Congo DR. Heavyweights like Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Egypt have started well enough to lead their respective groups, while Zambia have a head-start on Ghana and Sudan in what is sure to be a intensely contested Group D.

The match
Morocco 2-2 Côte d'Ivoire – Stade de Marrakech, 9 June, 2012
This was the 15th qualifier without defeat for the Elephants, although they were tamed slightly by the result, which also kept the Moroccans alive in Group C after two opening draws. The Atlas Lions, four-time World Cup finalists, came from behind twice as Houssine Kharja's penalty undid Salomon Kalou's early goal, and Hamza Abourazzouk's late header evened the match following Kolo Toure's second half goal. The Ivorians still lead Group C on four points, but Tanzania, Morocco and Gambia, on three, two and one point respectively, are all within striking distance of the continental giants.

The goal
Guinea 2-3 Egypt – Mohamed Salah, 90+3
Guinea and Egypt had both won their opening Group G matches before meeting in Conakry on 10 June, and the hosts thought they had snatched a point through Lass Bangoura's 88th minute equaliser. But almost immediately following the celebrations and re-start, Salah sprinted from the right wing and was picked out behind the defence. With the crowd still in mid-song and the defence closing frantically, the 20-year-old showed a coolness well beyond his years, taking a touch with his right foot to draw the goalkeeper closer and then firing a left-footed shot into the net with the last kick of the match. Recently named the “most promising” youngster of 2012 by CAF, Salah and his dramatic goal gave Egypt three points from probably their toughest fixture and leaves them in the driving seat of the group.

The stat
1 –
Only a single nation lost both of their opening matches to start the second round of Brazil 2014 qualifying: up-and-coming Cape Verde. The Blue Sharks, who ironically just recorded the greatest achievement in their history – a first-ever qualification for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations – nonetheless suffered a pair of 2-1 defeats in Group B, to Tunisia and Sierra Leone. In contrast, three nations won six points: Tunisia, Egypt and Zambia, who were awarded a victory despite a 2-0 defeat in Sudan after it was ruled the Sudanese had fielded an ineligible player.

What they said
“We could have scored more goals, and I hope at the end of the group matches we won’t look back with regret at the many chances we created but did not convert,” Zambia coach Herve Renard after his side's 1-0 victory over Ghana in Ndola on 9 June.

Up next
2012 was an extraordinarily busy year for African national teams, with qualifying for the 2013 AFCON squeezed in after the 2012 edition in January due to the continental event's movement to odd numbered years. The next 12 months should be just as action-packed with six rounds of Brazil 2014 matches to be played between March and November. There will be four more group contests – one in March, two in June and another at the start of September – before the ten group winners advance to the third and final round.

Those sides will be drawn into five home-and-away ties with the two matches to be played in October and November. The winners of those head-to-head contests will join 27 other nations from around the world in the 20th edition of the world's biggest and most prestigious footballing showpiece.

Have your say
What favourites will stumble on the road to Brazil? Will Africa produce its usual shocks and send a debutant (or two) to the finals? Will one of them be current continental kings Zambia? Click on “Have your say” to share your views with other FIFA.com users.