Although most of the teams still involved in the second round of African qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ have just two matches in the group phase remaining, not a single one has already qualified for the third round.
Nigeria missed an opportunity midweek, when they were held to a 1-1 draw in Namibia in a game that was brought forward due to the Super Eagles' participation in the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013. Five countries involved in matches this weekend can clinch their place in the play-offs on their own accord, while several others can advance if results go their way. The ten group winners will move to the final round, where they will be drawn into five ties, with the victors in the two-legged contests qualifying for Brazil.
The big game
Ethiopia – South Africa 16 June, Addis Ababa Stadium, Addis Ababa, 16:00 (local time)
In Group A, Ethiopian fans are bracing themselves for a real 'final' that could take their team to unlikely heights. With two matches remaining, Sewnet Bishaw's Ethiopian side are leading the group by two points over South Africa knowing a victory would give them an unassailable five point lead, while a draw or a South African win would ensure that the final placings in the group will only be decided on the last matchday.
Both teams go into their match buoyed by victories achieved last weekend. Getaneh Kedebe and Salahdin Ahmed scored for Ethiopia as they won 2-1 in Botswana, while South Africa trounced Central African Republic 3-0 in neutral Cameroon. Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund, who took over the side after they had drawn their two opening matches and has since taken them to back-to-back wins against Central African Republic, said that he was happy the team controlled their own fate again. "We can do it ourselves, we do not need to hope for results from another match. It is also in our favour that it is direct goal difference rather than head-to-head results."
One of the teams that can qualify for the next round is Tunisia, who take a five-point lead into their Group B game in Equatorial Guinea. A victory would definitely see the Carthage Eagles through, while a draw could be enough if Sierra Leone fail to win in Cape Verde Islands. Egypt are in a similar situation ahead of their game in Mozambique. A five-point advantage means they go through with a win, while even a draw would be enough if second-placed Guinea do not win against Zimbabwe.
The Pharaohs are the only team in the competition with a 100 per cent record and their hopes remain high for their first FIFA World Cup participation since 1990. Algeria, who were North Africa's sole representative at the finals in South Africa three years ago, are looking to maintain control of Group H with a win in Rwanda, while their closest chasers Mali are at home to Benin.
The other teams that would progress with a victory are Côte d'Ivoire and Congo. The Elephants, who lead Group C by four points, are away to second-placed Tanzania, while Morocco are hoping for an Ivorian slip-up that would keep their slim hopes alive. Surprise team Congo, who head Group E, need only to draw their home match against Burkina Faso to advance to the play-offs.
In Group D, Zambia and Ghana are involved in a neck-and-neck race for first place. The Chipolopolo have a point advantage and are at home to Sudan, while Ghana are away to Lesotho. A victory for both would set up a 'final' between the two in Ghana on the last matchday.
Groups I and J are evenly poised with just two points separating all of the teams. Volker Finke's Cameroon coaching career got off to the worst possible start last weekend as he lost his first competitive game in charge 2-0 in Togo. The German coach is still sweating over the availability of star striker Samuel Eto'o, who missed the match in Lome through injury but could be available for the Indomitable Lions' trip to Congo DR.
Libya, who top Group I on goal difference over Cameroon, are at home to Togo. Senegal, who were held to a 1-1 draw in Angola last weekend, lead Group J with six points but face a daunting away trip to Liberia, who also still fancy their chances with four. Second-placed Uganda, who have five points, are at home to Angola, who have four draws to show for their four matches.
Did you know?
Of the 40 teams involved in the second round of qualifying, only 12 sides no longer have a chance of qualifying for the third and final round.
Player to watch
Egypt’s 4-2 victory in Zimbabwe last weekend took them to the brink of the play-offs and the star of the victory in Harare was Mohamed Salah, who scored a hat-trick. The Basel striker, who was voted as CAF's most promising African talent of the Year in 2012, has been praised by his coach Bob Bradley. “Salah is the future of Egyptian football. He is a perfect professional player both on and off the pitch. He will play a great role in guiding us to the World Cup finals,” said the American.
What they said
"We all want to qualify for the World Cup in 2014. It should not take place without [Cameroon]. And for that, we cannot afford to make any mistakes in the next match," Alexandre Song ahead of Cameroon's difficult away trip to Congo DR.
Libya - Togo
Botswana - Central African Republic
Morocco - Gambia
Zambia - Sudan
Congo - Burkina Faso
Gabon - Niger
Uganda - Angola
Liberia - Senegal
Cape Verde Islands - Sierra Leone
Ethiopia - South Africa
Tanzania - Côte d'Ivoire
Lesotho - Ghana
Mozambique - Egypt
Guinea - Zimbabwe
Rwanda - Algeria
Congo DR - Cameroon
Mali - Benin
Equatorial Guinea - Tunisia
Malawi 2-2 Kenya
Namibia 1-1 Nigeria