In what is fast becoming a FIFA World Cup™ qualifying tradition, Togo and Zambia have once again been drawn in the same qualifying group after the same occurred on the road to Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006.
Back in 2002 both national sides dropped out of qualifying at the second stage, Zambia coming third and Togo fourth, though the 2006 campaign was a landmark for the Togolese - the Sparrowhawks qualifying for their first-ever finals by finishing two points clear of Senegal. The scale of the feat was even greater when you remember that Togo have never even reached the second round at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Although the qualifying race is likely to be a two-pronged affair between the now-traditional rivals, Swaziland have nothing to lose after the withdrawal of Eritrea.
Togo: Qualification for Germany 2006 and the presence of an established star of the calibre of Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor are reasons enough for Togo to be considered as group favourites. That said, poor results in the preliminaries for CAN 2008 will have dented their confidence: the Togolese finished third in their group behind Mali and Benin and will have to wait to end their record of never having progressed past the first round at the continental showpiece
Zambia: The Zambians, for their part, sealed a place at the finals of CAN 2008 in fine style over in Group 11. Having ended the group level on 11 points with South Africa, Zambia had the edge on head-to-head record: Chris Katongo's hat-trick sealing an impressive 3-1 away win in Cape Town.
Swaziland: With the forfeit of Eritrea, Swaziland are the sole team capable of upsetting the hierarchy. Despite being listed at 102nd place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the Swazis are still considered to be a minor African footballing nation. Could they pull off a shock in their four qualifying matches?
The players to watch
Emmanuel Adebayor (TOG), Moustapha Salifou (TOG), Chris Katongo (ZAM), Collins Mbesuma (ZAM).
The crunch match
Togo-Zambia. Of the four matches contested over the last two qualifying campaigns, the teams have recorded two wins apiece. Whoever manages to tip the balance in their favour will be in with a great chance of making it through to the second phase of qualifying.
A look back
Togo4-1 Zambia, 5 June 2005, Lome. Thanks in part to an inspired performance by Adebayor, scorer of two goals, Togo stormed to a home win over Zambia, gaining valuable momentum on the way to sealing their first ever appearance at a FIFA World Cup finals.
3: Togo have beaten Zambia this many times, each victory coming in the city of Lome. However, the Sparrowhawks were defeated on both their visits to Zambia.
Did you know? * After Eritrea's withdrawal, their fixtures have been expunged from the records in the interests of fair play. The three remaining teams will play each other home and away to decide who progresses from Group 11.
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