African favourites seek home comfort

Fixtures Saturday Algeria   vs  Rwanda CAR    vs   Botswana   Cameroon     vs    Congo DR           Kenya    vs   Malawi
African qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil start this weekend. Net photo.
African qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil start this weekend. Net photo.

Fixtures
Saturday
Algeria     vs     Rwanda
CAR    vs     Botswana  
Cameroon     vs    Congo DR          
Kenya     vs     Malawi         
Sierra Leone     vs     Cape Verde Islands     
Gambia     vs     Morocco     
Côte d’Ivoire     vs     Tanzania         
Tunisia     vs     Eq. Guinea     
Burkina Faso     vs    Congo
Senegal     vs     Liberia        
Sudan     vs     Zambia          
Sunday
South Africa     vs    Ethiopia
Zimbabwe     vs     Guinea    
Togo     vs     Libya  
Niger     vs     Gabon
Nigeria     vs     Namibia       
Benin     vs    Mali   
Angola     vs     Uganda

JOHANNESBRUG - With the beginning of the group stage in African qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, the continent’s elite enter the fray with every point taking on dramatic resonance.

There are many situations to watch in this weekend’s 20 contests - two in each of the ten groups - and over the next 15 months, as ten teams earn the right to advance to the next round.

The big game

The Indomitable Lions are Africa’s most successful team in qualifying, reaching the FIFA World Cup finals six times in the last 30 years.

However, supporters are worried by the tough draw into Group I with Congo DR, Libya and Togo, the long-term suspension of captain Samuel Eto’o and the failure to reach this year’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals.

New coach Denis Lavagne has suffered one defeat in six games using a young side and has been pleading for patience from what is sure to be a demanding crowd on Saturday.

These two teams have an even record in three previous qualifying campaigns against each other, and in the corresponding fixture less than two years ago in the AFCON, the visitors - now led by veteran Claude Le Roy - claimed a fairly comfortable 1-1 draw.

Elsewhere

Africa is known for its turnover of coaches, and there will be many new faces on the touchline this month. One of the newest is Frenchman Sabri Lamouchi, who just took up the wheel for Côte d’Ivoire this week as the Elephants prepare to host Tanzania in Group C.

Next weekend, the African runners-up travel to Marrakesh to meet rivals Morocco, who open with a trickier trip to Gambia. Côte d’Ivoire are trying to become the fourth African nation to reach three FIFA World Cups in a row, a feat that can also be matched by Ghana, who are heavy favourites at home against Lesotho in Group D.

The section’s other match sees new African champions Zambia away to a strong Sudan team, before hosting the Black Stars next weekend.

Also expected to win at home is Tunisia, who are now coached by former international Sami Trabelsi and begin Group B at home against Equatorial Guinea.

Although a FIFA World Cup veteran himself, American Bob Bradley will make his debut leading Egypt in a qualifier when they open Group G on Friday against Mozambique.

The Pharaohs have not reached the finals since 1990, and in that time they have won four African titles, so expectations are high for the football-starved nation.

 Next week they will face an even tougher test in Conakry against Guinea, who open at Zimbabwe. Two west African giants with similarly high hopes and new coaches are Nigeria and Senegal.

Stephen Keshi’s Super Eagles are looking to top Namibia in Calabar and dominate Group F, which also includes Malawi and Kenya, from the off.

The Senegalese have caretaker Josephe Koto in charge as they begin Group J in Dakar against Liberia and their debutant coach Kaetu Smith. Angola and Uganda, angling to challenge the Lions of Teranga to the end, meet in a vital Sunday match in Luanda.

AFCON semi-finalists Mali begin with an awkward challenge in Benin as the two eye Group H favourites Algeria, who host Rwanda on Saturday.

 The Malians and Beninoise are both at the start of new managerial cycles under Amadou Pathe Diallo and Frenchman Manuel Amoros respectively.

Group E might be the most even section with Niger opening in fortress Niamey against up-and-comers Gabon, while Congo will try to steal something at Burkina Faso on Saturday.

What they said

“Benin have never beaten Mali, but we are here to erase history,”  Benin coach Manuel Amoros, who starred for France as Les Bleus finished fourth and third at the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups respectively.

 

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