There is little relief at the weekend for the cream of African footballers, who will be forced into battle again for a third successive week as qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ continues. Another testing programme of matches promises to give further clarity to the potential outcome of the 12 groups, from which 20 teams will progress to the next phase.
With two rounds gone and two more to come this month, the competition is now at a critical point. FIFA.com previews the action from Groups 1 to 6 this weekend, when Angola, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria will be out to maintain their 100 per cent starts.
Group 1: Cameroon were never expected to encounter any real problems in their pool, and propelled by Samuel Eto'o they have indeed breezed through their opening two encounters. An away win in Dar-es-salaam on Saturday will put them on the cusp of qualification for the next phase and, at the same time, end any realistic hopes Tanzania have of avoiding an early exit. "We are enjoying ourselves and the boys are playing really well," said Indomitable Lions coach Otto Pfister. Mauritius picked up a potential valuable point in their opening game in Tanzania before being given a reality check by Cameroon, but they can keep themselves in contention if they beat the Cape Verde Islands.
Group 2: Guinea started the section as favourites but now find themselves bottom of the standings. Defeat in Namibia on Saturday would effectively end their hopes of reaching South Africa 2010, although they will be hoping to count on the return from injury of Hamburg midfielder Collin Benjamin. Meantime, leaders Zimbabwe travel to runners-up Kenya hoping to continue their flying start. Kenya have concerns over the fitness of Dennis Oliech, who netted both goals in their 2-0 win over Guinea last time out, and influential captain Robert Mambo. "We are now focused on building a winning team, we need some consistency in our performance," said Kenya coach Francis Kimanzi ahead of the Nairobi showdown.
Group 3: Angola may have begun their two previous qualifiers slowly, but they ultimately emerged victorious to sit top of their group on six points. Another win in Kampala against Uganda would leave them in a commanding position. The Black Antelopes returned home for training this week, playing matches against local club teams to test new combinations in event Egypt-based stars Flavio and Gilberto fail to overcome respective injuries. Midfielder Xara and Benfica striker Mantorras are likely to take their place. Uganda hope to have captain Ibrahim Ssekagya back after he went to Austria for treatment last week. Benin will debut under new coach Michel Dussuyer, who has taken over from Wabi Gomez despite the side's 4-1 win over Uganda on Sunday. Benin face bottom-placed Niger in Niamey on Saturday.
Group 4: Nigeria and South Africa, the two favourites in the pool, must both play away this weekend. The Super Eagles, top on six points, may be without Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, who has question mark over his fitness, for their game against Equatorial Guinea, who were thoroughly outclassed when they went down 4-1 to South Africa in Pretoria on Saturday. The Nzalang Nacional are still hoping their key striker Rodolfo Bodipo, from Spanish club Deportivo, will link up with the team. Second-placed South Africa departed for Sierra Leone on Wednesday night carrying concerns over their availability of their first-choice central defensive pairing of Aaron Mokoena and Bevan Fransman. Sierra Leone will have strikers Paul Kpaka and Mohamed Kallon back from suspension for the game.
Group 5: Ghana got a little fright in their last qualifier but were still able beat Lesotho 3-2 to assume leadership of the group. Now with Sulley Muntari back from injury, they are in Gabon in high spirits as they continue their bid to qualify for a second successive FIFA World Cup. If the Black Stars win on Saturday, they will be well positioned to move to the next round of the African qualifiers and with Daniel Cousin absent, Gabon are not expected to deny their visitors victory. In Bloemfontein, South Africa, where Lesotho have moved their home matches, a cold snap of weather awaits Libya, who travel from the height of their summer. Faouzi Benzerti's team impressed in defeat in their curtain-raiser against Ghana, while Lesotho's two late goals against Ghana has given their new coach Zavisa Milosavljevic hope for a positive result.
Group 6: Home advantage for Gambia and Liberia could help both countries back in the fray as they host the two more fancied teams in the group. On Saturday, the Gambians take on Algeria with their morale at a high after they held Senegal to a 0-0 draw. It was a result that pleased their new coach Paul Put. "I am happy with the way we played. We have tried everything to win the match, but luck was not on our side," he said. The Senegalese, top with four points from two outings, take on a Liberia side that sits bottom on one.