For the ten countries remaining in Africa's FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign, the journey will come to an end this week with five sides holding tickets to Brazil 2014. Each of the five ties features a side that reached South Africa 2010, so depending on the results from the second leg of the home-and-away play-offs, the continent might have a repeat of the qualifiers from four years ago.
The big game
Algeria - Burkina Faso, 19 November, Mustapha Tchaker Stadium, Blida, 19:15 (local time)
Last time around, Algeria were the only African country that qualified via a play-off after finishing equal on all levels with Egypt, whom they edged out with a 1-0 victory. They are looking to emulate that success against Burkina Faso, who travel to North Africa with a 3-2 advantage from the home leg. The Stallions, who are looking for a first-ever appearance at the World Cup finals, will be able to call on the previously injured Aristide Bance, who scored the decisive third goal from the spot in the first leg after having earlier missed a penalty. Algerian coach Vahid Halilhodzic has called up a string of European-based players, including the Inter Milan duo of Saphir Taider and Ishak Belfodil and will be confident in overturning the first-leg deficit with two away goals.
Although Ethiopian coach Sewnet Bishew is cautiously optimistic that his team can turn around a 2-1 first-leg home defeat against African champions Nigeria on Saturday in Calabar, anything but a Nigerian victory would be a major surprise. The coach welcomes back South African-based striker Getaneh Kebede, who has recovered from a knee injury that forced him out of the first leg. “[Getaneh's] presence will be an added advantage for my attacking options," the coach said. Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi, meanwhile, has once again opted for his strategy of complimenting international stars with locally-based players, and he has also called up American-born Toronto FC striker Bright Dike as a late replacement for Uche Nwofor.
Also on Saturday, Senegal face Côte d'Ivoire in neutral Morocco as the Lions of Teranga are still barred from playing at home. Senegalese coach Alain Giresse has once again omitted explosive striker Demba Ba because he has failed to find regular playing time with Chelsea this season. It is a controversial decision since Giresse's team are down 3-1 from the first-leg and in need of goals. He has, though, changed things up by bringing in three new players: defender Zarco Toure, midfielder Pape Diop as well as former Manchester United striker Mame Biram Diouf. As one of the continent's most experienced sides, and with players like Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba available, the Ivorians are favoured to protect their advantage and reach their third finals on the trot.
The only match on Sunday sees Tunisia travel to Cameroon with the tie all-square after the two played to a goalless draw in the first leg. Cameroon coach Volker Finke has made a plea for team spirit ahead of the game saying: "We don’t need more quarrels and confusion within the national team. We need unity and peace in order to overcome the hurdle of Tunisia, which is in the interest of the entire nation,” he said. Tunisian coach Ruud Krol made several changes to his squad for the return leg, bringing in Fabien Camus and Stefan Nater, who are based in Belgium and Switzerland respectively, while leaving out former national team captain Karim Haggui and Wahbi Khazri.
Next week's other match sees Egypt trying to keep their dream alive of a first finals since 1990, but a 6-1 thumping in the first leg has all-but the most die-hard fans admitted the task is probably impossible, even with a full stadium in Cairo expected. Pharaohs' coach Bob Bradley, who says they will have a "different approach" in the return leg, has opted to retain most of the squad, giving the players an opportunity to redeem themselves. He has picked 11 players from new African champions Al Ahly, and Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah has is taking no chances by selecting his strongest squad for the game, including the Ayew brothers, Jordan and Andre.
Did you know?
Burkina Faso will have their work cut out for them if they want to prevail in Algeria, as the Fennec Foxes have never lost a match in Blida, winning all but four of the 21 games they have played in the city at the base of the Tell Atlas. However, one of the four teams that escaped with a draw were the Stallions, who managed a 2-2 draw in 2004 in a friendly. Algeria's record in World Cup qualifiers in the city is even more impressive, having won all nine games with a goal difference of 22-5.
Player to watch
Although the Black Stars have all-but qualified, Ghana's players will be eager to show that they are worthy of being included in the World Cup squad. Germany-born Kevin-Prince Boateng has had a mixed relationship with the national team, but since returning to the Bundesliga from AC Milan at the start of the season, the midfielder has been on song for Schalke 04 and he'll no doubt be looking to cement a spot in the team with a strong performance.
What they said
"I think [an African team] may have a stronger chance [to win the World Cup next year] than any of the European teams, to be perfectly honest, because of the climate. There are many African players out there of excellent quality who play in the top European leagues and that makes the African nations very strong," England manager Roy Hodgson.