Yet to appear in a FIFA World Cup™ finals, Guinea have been handed a gilt-edged opportunity to grace the biggest stage of all. In pitting them against Namibia, Kenya and Zimbabwe, the footballing gods seem to have smiled on the Guineans. And if Robert Nouzaret's team can maintain the superb form that saw them qualify for the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in style, they should have little trouble making progress on the road to South Africa 2010.
Bolstered by the star quality of Diambobo Balde, Pascal Feindouno, Fode Mansare and Ismael Bangoura, the experienced Nouzaret helped the Syli National recover from a faltering start to their CAN 2008 qualification campaign and overcome Gambia and Algeria en route to the finals. A repeat of those kinds of performances should be enough see off their three group rivals.
The favourites Guinea: The country's hopes undoubtedly rest on the strong spine that runs through the team: Dianbobo Balde in central defence, the artful Pascal Feindouno in the playmaker's role and the lethal Fode Mansare up front. Quite apart from being the most talented player Guinea has ever produced, Saint-Etienne star Feindouno is an inspirational captain whose mere presence has a galvanising effect on his troops.
The outsiders Namibia: The Warriors showed how much they have progressed by qualifying for the CAN 2008, the first time they have ever reached the continent's showpiece event. With coach Peter Ueberjahn's steady hand on the tiller and a huge wave of popular support behind them, the Namibians have the ability to navigate their way past Zimbabwe and Kenya and sail into one of the best eight runners-up berths.
Kenya: Opposing sides never quite know what they are going to get with the inconsistent Kenyans and it is that unpredictability that makes them dangerous opponents. If Dennis Oliech's team-mates can finally get their act together and find some consistency, they could trip up their group rivals.
*The players to watch * Fode Mansare (Guinea), Pascal Feindouno (Guinea), Ismael Bangoura (Guinea), Diambobo Balde (Guinea), Dennis Oliech (Kenya) and Benjani Mwarurari (Zimbabwe).
The crunch match Namibia-Guinea: Namibia are a tough proposition in Windhoek, which makes this meeting potentially vital to the outcome of the group. Negotiate this tricky away-day safely, and the Syli will have done the hard part.
A look back Guinea 4-0 Kenya, 20 December 1992, Conakry. This pre-Christmas qualifier for USA 1994 saw the Kenyan defence get into the festive spirit by gifting their hosts an easy win. But after strolling through the preliminaries, the Guineans found Cameroon and Zimbabwe in far less charitable mood in the group phase.
The stat 18. The number of years since the last meeting between Zimbabwe and Kenya, the Kenyans taking the spoils with a 2-1 friendly win on 9 December 1989 in Nairobi.
*Did you know? * None of the four teams have ever appeared in a FIFA World Cup™ finals.
*The question * Will Pascal Feindouno and his cohorts finally shake off their tag as Africa's nearly men and live up to their status as favourites? Click on "Add your comment" to give us your views.