The tempo of FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers seems set to be cranked up a notch across Africa this weekend as the continent's big guns face off once again following last week's opening salvoes. A total of 23 matches across 12 qualifying groups lie in wait, with Chad, Gabon, Lesotho, Sudan and Swaziland all playing for the first time, while Zambia enjoy a bye.
The opening weekend underlined the narrowing gap between the continent's traditional giants and also-rans, and the favourites are again expected to be under the spotlight ain matches on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. FIFA.com begins a two-part preview of the weekend action with a look at the action upcoming in qualifying groups 1 to 6.
Group 1: The much-anticipated avalanche of goals for Cameroon in their opening qualifier at home to the Cape Verde Islands never materialised, emphasising that the gulf that once existed in African international football has closed considerably. With that in mind, the Indomitable Lions travel to Mauritius for Sunday's clash in Curepipe with a full-strength squad. Mauritius dropped their only two foreign-based players, Jimmy Cundasamy and Ricardo Naboth, after both missed the trip to Tanzania, where the team known as 'Club M' came away with a credible 1-1 draw. "The youngsters continue to grow in stature. We have worked very hard to build a national team for the future," said Mauritius coach Ashok Chundasing. Tanzania play away against the Cape Verdians in Praia on Saturday, with coach Marcio Maximo under pressure after a disappointing start to the 2010 qualifying campaign.
Group 2: Zimbabwe will still have praise ringing in their ears when they take to the pitch against Namibia in Harare on Sunday, this after forcing a credible goalless draw at group favourites Guinea. The Warriors can now go top of the standings if they beat their southern African rivals, who won their opening game with a last-gasp winner against Kenya. It will be the first game played on the artificial turf at the Rufaro stadium, installed by FIFA as part of the 'Win in Africa, with Africa' programme. Namibia are again without key midfielder Collin Benjamin, whose toe injury has yet to heal. Kenya's new coach Francis Kimanzi has concerns over the fitness of Auxerre striker Dennis Oliech as the Harambee Stars prepare to host Guinea. Kimanzi has also called up two new defenders to address concerns over the manner in which they conceded goals to Namibia last Saturday.
Group 3: Angola's bid for a second successive FIFA World Cup finals appearance got off to a perfect start at the weekend with a 3-0 win over Benin. Now the Palancas Negras face a tough test of their credentials away to Niger on Sunday, a game for which crafty winger Gilberto has been passed fit. Uganda captain Ibrahim Sekkagya, who scored the only goal in his country's 1-0 home win over Niger last Saturday, misses their trip to Benin for the next contest in Cotonou on Sunday. Instead, he has flown to Austria, where he plays his club football, to seek treatment for a thigh injury. Also out of the match are Noah Kasule, Geoffrey Massa and Nestory Kizito.
Group 4: Nigeria will take a full-strength squad to Sierra Leone for Sunday's meeting in Freetown as they seek to build on the commanding performance displayed last Sunday against 2010 hosts South Africa. Coach Shaibu Amodu said the Super Eagles' display was evidence of the players' commitment and desire to get to the finals in two years' time. South Africa, competing in the preliminaries because they also serve to determine the field for the 2010 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, are to ring the changes after defeat in Abuja. Joel Santana's Bafana Bafana host Equatorial Guinea in Pretoria on Saturday, with their new coach revealing that he will shift several players to the sidelines after the defensive lapses which cost them against Nigeria. Teko Modise, South Africa's newly-crowed Footballer of the Year, returns from injury.
Group 5: Lesotho became the second team in successive weeks to host a FIFA 2010 World Cup qualifier on neutral territory when they meet Ghana in Bloemfontein. The match has been moved to South African from Maseru because of repairs to the Sesotho stadium but it will still feel like a home game for the Basotho in a city just 120km west of their border. Ghana arrived on Monday to prepare in the cold temperatures of the Free State, arriving with a full-strength squad on hand, including Michel Essien and Sulley Muntari. Gabon, meanwhile, make a belated bow in the qualifying campaign with an away encounter against Libya in Tripoli. Star striker Daniel Cousin pulled out of last weekend's scheduled against Lesotho, which was postponed at the last minute after the visitors failed to arrive because of an air traffic controller's strike, but could be back for the trip to north Africa.
Group 6: Gambia will be relishing their chance to claim an upset when they host neighbours Senegal on Sunday. The tiny west African country is completely surrounded by Senegal, save for their coast line on the Atlantic Ocean, and a credible away draw in Liberia in their opening encounter last weekend has allowed the Scorpions to think confidently. "To be honest, Senegal have big players and it will be a tough game But I have confidence in my team and their spirit gives me the feeling we can do it," said Gambia's new coach Paul Put. In the other group match, Algeria host Liberia in Blida on Friday. Two-time FIFA World Cup finalists Algeria lost their opener 1-0 in Senegal last weekend, while Liberia were forced to score a late equaliser to salvage a home point against the Gambians.