African aspirants resume journey


After this week’s matches in the CAF preliminary tournament for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the 40 remaining teams will be halfway through the group stage. With the knowledge that only the ten group winners advance to the final stage of qualifying, teams will be desperate to claim as many points as they can.

The big game
Burkina Faso-Niger, 23 March, Stade du 4 Aout, Ouagadougou, 18:00 (local time)
Although they have zero points from two matches and sit bottom of Group E, Burkina Faso have been buoyed by their performance at the recent CAF Africa Cup of Nations and are hoping to get their World Cup campaign on track. Paul Put’s team sensationally reached the final match of the AFCON, and that achievement is something that Player of the Tournament Jonathan Pitroipa believes will help the team in their next games. “Some people will laugh at the thought of Burkina Faso at the World Cup, but no one gave us a chance in South Africa and we surprised everyone,” said the Rennes winger. For their part, previously unheralded Niger have reached the last two continental finals and are in with a shout on three points in a group led by Congo with six.

Cameroon coach Jean Paul Akon will be missing three defenders for the Indomitable Lions’ crunch clash against Togo. The six-time finalists are only third in their group on three points and will be without the injured Aurelien Chedjou and Dany Nounkeu, as well as Tottenham Hotspur’s Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who is not available due to personal reasons. South African coach Gordon Igesund is in a similar situation as Bafana Bafana, with two points from two matches, take on the Central African Republic in Cape Town with several key players missing.

Newly crowned African champions Nigeria are at home to Kenya and are looking to extend their lead at the top of Group F, where Namibia take on Malawi in the other match. Buoyed by the three points they were awarded after it was ruled that Sudan had fielded an ineligible player in their opening victory against the Chipolopolo, Zambia are keen to maintain their 100-per-cent record away to Lesotho. After disappointing at the recent AFCON, Zambian players have vowed to move on and prove a point. “We have to go all out because we were very disappointed with the AFCON, so we need to prove that we are a better side and that we did not win the 2012 title by luck,” said South Africa-based striker Collins Mbesuma. Hoping for a Zambian slip-up are Ghana, who are at home to Sudan and three points behind the southern African team.

Côte d’Ivoire fans will be witnessing an unusual sight in Abidjan when Les Elephants take on Gambia. Sabri Lamouchi has dropped talismanic captain Didier Drogba, though the coach has said that the former Chelsea player remains in his plans. “He has had three different clubs in the last eight months and his time in China cost him a lot of fitness. But I am still counting on him in the World Cup qualifiers,” said the French coach. The Ivorians top Group C with four points, while Tanzania, who are a point behind, host third-place Morocco. Senegal, who reached the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals in 2002, can take a giant step towards the next round if they beat Angola, and Liberia do them a favour by beating Uganda in Group J.

Guinea are looking for a win in Mozambique to keep the pressure on Egypt in Group G, while Ethiopia want to stay top of their group with a victory at home against Botswana. Libya, who surprisingly top their group ahead of Cameroon, are away at Congo DR, while Rwanda take on Mali. Cape Verde are hoping to build on their AFCON success – they reached the quarter-finals in their debut – by securing their first qualifying points away to Equatorial Guinea. Egypt against Zimbabwe and Algeria versus Benin are the matches being played on Tuesday.

Did you know?
The last time that there was no North African representative at the FIFA World Cup finals was in 1974, when Congo DR – then known as Zaire – took the only place available for an African team.

Player to watch
After scoring the winner for the Super Eagles in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, Sunday Mba could again play an important role for Nigeria against Kenya, as coach Stephen Keshi continues to show confidence in several locally-based players.

What they said
“This match is vital for us. It’s important for the rest of our campaign and the last matches in our group. The match will be very difficult. We saw our opponents (Sierra Leone) in the last game in the African Cup qualification when we drew against them in Monastir,” Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul.


23 March
Côte d’Ivoire-Gambia
Burkina Faso-Niger
Tunisia-Sierra Leone
South Africa-Central African Republic

24 March
Congo DR-Libya
Equatorial Guinea-Cape Verde Islands

26 March