Idriss Kameni, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Bongani Khumalo are some of the well-known names that have been brought back from the footballing cold as African teams hunt passage to the final CAF qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Côte d'Ivoire, Algeria and Egypt are the three countries already assured of a place in the final qualifying round, while at least two teams in the other seven groups still have a chance of joining them in the final head-to-head stage. In the next round, the ten group winners will be drawn into five ties, with the victors in the home-and-away contests qualifying for Brazil.
The big game
Ghana – Zambia, 6 September, Baba Yara Stadium, Kumasi, 16:00 (local time)
Ghana have brought in their big-guns for their Group D game in Kumasi against the Chipolopolo, with coach Kwesi Appiah recalling Boateng, who has just moved to Bundesliga club Schalke, Chelsea's Michael Essien - who may not play after the recent death of his father - and Marseille's Andre Ayew. All three players had not factored for the team for many months after saying that they preferred to concentrate on their club careers. The mathematics of the group is simple: 2012 African champions Zambia have to win to topple the Black Stars from first place, while the other group game features Sudan and Lesotho who have both been eliminated from qualification. Speaking about Ghana's opponents, Ayew said: "The Zambians are talking too much, and they must be shut down," before adding that the mood in the camp of the South Africa 2010 quarter-finalists was positive.
Ethiopia, who thought they had done all the hard work in their previous Group A game against South Africa with a 2-1 victory, must repeat their efforts after being stripped of a win in Botswana for fielding an ineligible player. The Walia Antelopes now must beat the Central African Republic in neutral Brazzaville if they want to guarantee progress. Anything but a win would open the door for South Africa or Botswana, who face each other in Durban. Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund has brought former captain Khumalo back to the side. "Bafana have a big game and that’s where all our attention is. It’s what really matters," the Doncaster Rovers defender said when asked about Ethiopia's chances.
Another team that lost ground off the pitch is Libya, who thought they would need just a draw from their final game in Cameroon to advance at the expense of the Indomitable Lions. The roles have been reversed now as Togo forfeited three points from a win against the Cameroonians, who welcome back veteran goalkeeper Kameni after an absence of a year and sit top of Group I with ten points – one more than Libya. Also going head-to-head for a place in the play-offs are Senegal and Uganda, with the former knowing a draw will be enough for them, although they will be forced to play their 'home' match in Morocco.
In Group B, Tunisia will be confident of holding off Cape Verde Islands at home in Rades with a two-point advantage. Like the Blue Sharks, Malawi have a chance to shock the continent on the road, needing three points at this year's African champions Nigeria to pip the Super Eagles to the top of Group F. The games in Group C and Group G are for entertainment and statistical interest only. In the former, Côte d'Ivoire will host Morocco with only pride on the line, while in the latter, Egypt put the continent's only perfect preliminary record up against Guinea in Alexandria.
Did you know?
Zambia have not lost a competitive match against Ghana since 1992, when the Black Stars beat them 1-0 in the group stage of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Since then, Zambia have won all three non-friendly matches the two teams have played - including the second Group D match 1-0 last summer in Ndola - although none of those have been in Ghana.
Player to watch
Congo could have made sure of a place in the play-offs on either of the last two matchdays, but a draw in Gabon and a defeat at home against Burkina Faso has seen the Diables Rouges stuck on the doorstep of securing a place in the next round. They will again try to secure Group E during a tough trip to Niger for their final game - one point ahead of the surging Burkinabe and three better than Gabon. One of the players the Congo fans are putting their faith in to find goals is France-born winger Chris Malonga, who has just joined Vitoria Guimaraes from Monaco. The exciting 26-year-old was on loan at Lausanne last season and was the top scorer for the Swiss club.
What they said
"As players, we have a duty to try and win the match, the Malawians should not take us by surprise. From the first sound of the whistle, we intend to go for a win, it will be suicidal going for a draw, even if that will be enough to carry us through,” goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama ahead of Nigeria's game against Malawi.
Ghana - Zambia
South Africa - Botswana
Central African Republic - Ethiopia
Sierra Leone - Equatorial Guinea
Tunisia - Cape Verde Islands
Gambia - Tanzania
Côte d'Ivoire - Morocco
Burkina Faso - Gabon
Niger - Congo
Nigeria - Malawi
Angola - Liberia
Senegal - Uganda
8 September 2013
Sudan - Lesotho
Kenya - Namibia
Zimbabwe - Mozambique
Benin - Rwanda
Cameroon - Libya
Togo - Congo DR
Egypt - Guinea
Algeria - Mali