Botswana have the chance to firmly establish themselves as an emerging football nation when they go up against top seeds, and neighbours, South Africa in Group A of the African qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™. The Zebras have been the surprise package of continental football over the last 12 months but will have their new-found credentials severely tested. The group also features the Central African Republic, who broke into the top 100 of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for the very first time in July and and hit 90th in the rankings, which is a far cry from their average past position of 178th.
Also drawn in the group is Ethiopia, who beat Somalia 5-0 on aggregate in the play-in tie. The Walya Antelopes have been attempting FIFA World Cup qualification since 1958 but hopes of a first-ever qualification have been given a recent lift in a display of their potential against powerful Nigeria.
South Africa will be seen as runaway favourites and will feel the footballing Gods have finally smiled upon them, after they drew Nigeria in their last FIFA World Cup qualifying group and reigning continental champions Egypt in the current qualifiers for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Bafana Bafana are hoping to go to the FIFA World Cup for the fourth time in the last five tournaments.
Botswana: The country’s population might be small but development programmes and grassroots campaigns have finally paid off with a generation who have been able to secure qualification for a first-ever appearance at the Cup of Nations finals, to be played next year.
Central African Republic: Veteran coach Jules Accorsi has turned his side into serious contenders over the last year, including beating Algeria and drawing away against Morocco.
Players to watch
Mogogi Gabonamong, Jerome Ramatlhakwane, Dipsy Selolwane (BOT), Habib Habibou, Foxi Kethevoama (CTA), Katlego Mphela, Steven Pienaar, Thulani Serero (RSA)
The crunch match
The derby between Botswana and South Africa has the potential to be the key clash in the group. Even though it is a three-hour car drive from Gaborone and Johannesburg, the neighbours have played each other only six times over the last two decades, with South Africa unbeaten with four wins and two draws.
A look back
Central African Republic 0-1 Zimbabwe, 9 April 2000, Bangui
The only previous time that the capital of the Central African Republic has hosted a FIFA World Cup qualifier, the hosts lost to Zimbabwe in a preliminary round tie. Peter Ndlovu scored after just five minutes and both teams had a player sent off in the first half.
Have your say
Have 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts South Africa been rewarded with an easy group?