Hot shots hunt decisive All-Africa goals
Emerging stars Bongani Ndulula of South Africa and Nosa Igiehor of Nigeria will be in the hunt for more goals this weekend in the final 2011 All-Africa Games football qualifiers. Ndulula, of Soweto club Orlando Pirates, bagged the brace that gave his team a 2-0 home win over Zimbabwe in a third round, first-leg eliminator two weeks ago.
Norway-based Igiehor also struck twice as his side overcame the shock of falling behind on the stroke of half-time against bitter rivals Ghana to triumph 3-1 in Benin City. Tall, dreadlocked Ndulula is the leading scorer in qualifying with six goals - one more than Zimbabwean Simba Sithole - while Igiehor has been on target four times.
A couple of other fixtures are more delicately balanced with defending champions Cameroon needing to overcome a 1-0 deficit when they host the Democratic Republic of Congo in Yaounde. Senegal are in an identical position to the title holders as they enjoy home advantage in Dakar over neighbours Guinea but must overcome a 1-0 away loss last weekend in a delayed first leg.
Uganda appear bankers for a place at the eight-nation September tournament in Mozambique having unleashed second-half havoc on Kenya to triumph 5-1 in Nairobi and rendered the Kampala leg virtually meaningless.
South Africa coach Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba expects a dog fight in Harare even though his team dominated the first meeting and would not have been flattered by a four-goal winning margin. "Zimbabwe will go all out to avenge that loss and I anticipate them being a lot more aggressive this time," warned the man who 11 years ago guided his country during their sole Olympic Games football appearance.
Sithole, who has moved from Harare outfit CAPS United for Pretoria club Mamelodi Sundowns, is somewhat in needs of a good performance after a disappointing first leg showing in which he never threatened goalkeeper Boalefa Pule.
Nigeria have been the form team on the continent at under-23 level - the age limit for the All-Africa Games and Olympic Games - scoring 22 goals in seven outings. Coach Augustine Eguavoen knows the importance of an away goal in Kumasi as the one Rabiu Mohammed poached in Nigeria means a 2-0 win for Ghana will squeeze them through.
Ukraine-based Ghanaian captain Samuel Inkoom does not doubt the outcome: "This tie is far from over. We just need to wake up, correct mistakes, and take our scoring chances."
Cameroon have ruled the quadrennial All-Africa Games football tournament for more than a decade, collecting gold at Johannesburg (1999), Abuja (2003) and Algiers (2007) medal ceremonies. But the Indomitable Cubs of 2011 have failed to impress as they suffered a shock Olympic Games exit against modest Tanzania before losing to a Mutombo Kazadi goal in Kinshasa.
Mozambique qualified automatically as hosts and Egypt and Madagascar secured places without needing to play because opponents Libya and Seychelles withdrew from the region-based eliminators.