Of the 10 remaining nations in the CAF Third round play-offs, five countries that qualified for the last World Cup are all still in contention for a return but five of the teams will be moving a step closer to Brazil 2014 when the elimination process gets underway this weekend across the continent. It is also the first time since 1989 that playoffs have been used to determine Africa’s World Cup representatives.
Let’s explore the five fixtures critically as we get ourselves prepared for what promises to be a fascinating football weekend.
When the Nigeria advanced party complained about the state of the pitch that will host the African Champions, it didn’t come as a surprise to many. The venue is the oldest of the five venues to be used in this round of matches; the venue that can host 35,000 spectators was opened in 1940.
The message is very clear to the eagles, get complacent and get knocked out!
Nigeria is the continental champions, one of Africa’s powerhouses, ranked 36th in the world and has qualified for four World Cups. Ethiopia, on the other hand are ranked 93rd in the world and have spent decades away from the spotlight and are yet to make it to the international Promised Land.
Nigeria, however, have a habit of being grossly unpredictable, and with Ethiopia as an emerging force, able to boast a passionate home crowd and an exciting side of predominantly home-based players, anything is possible.
The head-to-head record between the two countries is equally in favour of the African champions – five wins, a draw and a loss. The last match between both teams in Addis Ababa was in 2011 and Nigeria needed an 86th minute equaliser from skipper Joseph Yobo to snatch a 2-2 draw.
The first leg will be crucial; as Nigeria is more than capable of capitulating in Calabar should things not go their way.
NIGERIA – The Nigerian team on paper looks have a star studded team but Coach Stephen Keshi will be relying on the intelligence of JOHN OBI MIKEL, the discipline and work ethics of OGENYI ONAZI, NOSA IGIEBOR and the attacking prowess of VICTOR MOSES, EMMANUEL EMENIKE and AHMED MUSA. In defence, Chelsea’s Kenneth Omeruo is out of this one but with Captain VINCENT ENYEAMA, GODFREY OBOABONA, ELDERSON ECHIEJILE and EFE AMBROSE, Nigerians can confidently expect a fine outing.
ETHIOPIA – Coach Sewnet Bishaw is saddened about the fact one of his key men in Getaneh Kebede who has so far scored four goals in the qualifiers have been ruled out of this one but they can still look forward to getting the business done with star attackers, SALADIN SAID and ADANE GIRMA .
Preview: Ivory Coast VS Senegal
Date: Saturday, October 12, 2013
Venue: Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny
Ivory Coast will be looking to take a big step towards their third consecutive FIFA World Cup when they host Senegal on Saturday at the 50,000 capacity stadium.
Sabri Lamouchi’s men welcome the Teranga Lions to Abidjan for the first leg knowing a convincing win would put them in pole position to qualify for the finals in Brazil next year.
The hosts head into the game in poor form, though, having won just two of their last six games, but they are up against a Senegalese side that are unbeaten in their last five outings.
However, Ivory Coast were victorious in the last meeting between the two sides, the second leg of an Africa Cup of Nations play-off in October 2012, which was suspended late in the second half due to riots among the Senegal fans after Drogba had scored twice to give his side a 2-0 lead.
IVORYCOAST – Midfielder Yaya Toure is Ivory Coast’s top scorer in qualifying so far with four goals and the Manchester City star will be looked upon to play a pivotal role.
Striker DIDIER DROGBA’S experience and his leadership skills on the pitch will be impactful.
Another Key Man to look out for is SALOMON KALOU who has been on a good run with his French club and will be looking to contribute well into the team that looks likely to progress.
SENEGAL – PAPISS CISSE would need to rediscover his form if he’s to help his team get a good result having scored just one goal for Newcastle this season but has been key for his country in qualifying, netting four times in six games. The Ivorians definitely have something to worry about when he is in form.
Manager Alain Giresse still has strength in depth in his ranks, with Fenerbahce’s MOUSSA SOW and Bordeaux’s HENRI SAIVET both available to boost the forward line as Senegal look to reach the finals for the first time since 2002.
Preview: Ghana VS Egypt
Date: Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Venue: Baba Yara Sports Stadium
Situated in the Ashanti city of Kumasi, the Baba Yara Sports Stadium was first opened in 1959, though the first stands were only constructed in 1971 but it received extensive renovations ahead of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations that was hosted by Ghana.
Ghana and Egypt are among the strongest teams in Africa at the moment, and while this draw is a nightmare for two of the continent’s giants, it should make for two engrossing clashes for the neutral spectator.
The Black Stars demonstrated their big-game mentality during the group stage, overcoming Zambia in Kumasi to book their place in the play-off round.
For the Pharaohs, American coach Bob Bradley, have been a key figure in unifying and consolidating this Egyptian team in light of the dreadful trauma the nation has suffered, not to mention the suspension of the domestic league.
That Egypt have come this far, considering the violent upheaval that has savaged the nation, is remarkable. That they escaped the group with a
100 percent record represents a stunning achievement. If they could go one step further and qualify for the World Cup, it would truly represent one of Africa’s great sporting achievements if we consider the fact that they have failed to add a silver lining to their dominant decade and make it to either of the last two tournaments.
GHANA – The Black stars are boosted by the return of four key players who have the capacity to transform the side. ANDRE AYEW, JORDAN AYEW, MICHAEL ESSIEN and KEVIN-PRINCE BOATENG are back in the mix that already boasts of a KWADWO ASAMOAH, EMMANUEL BADU and ASAMOAH GYAN. However, they will be missing the services of solid centre-back pairing of Jonathan Mensah and John Boye. Without these two, Ghana has an obvious point of weakness for Egypt to exploit.
EGYPT – The North Africans certainly have the firepower to cause an upset in Kumasi with MOHAMMED SALAH and veteran, MOHAMMED ABOUTRIKA.
Preview: Tunisia VS Cameroun
Date: Sunday, October 13, 2013
Venue: Stade Olympique de Radès
Opened in 2001, renovated in 2005, the Stade Olympique de Radès is one of the most modern on the continent.
The North Africans are fortunate to still be afloat in this World Cup qualifier. They have been well below average, conceding goals in every fixture during the group stage and persistently looking shaky and disorganised. They were initially eliminated, having been bested by Cape Verde in Group B; however, the islanders were deducted points for fielding an ineligible player and the sanction proved enough to allow Tunisia to slip in and steal top spot.
A record of four wins and two draws in the group stage wasn’t dreadful, but the Eagles of Carthage have done little to suggest that they deserve a place in Brazil.
For Cameroon, They have flattered to deceive in recent years, despite their progression to this final stage; they have also endured their own problems over the last four years. A cathartic process was certainly required following the outing at the 2010 World Cup. However, qualification for Brazil can put that unfortunate season to bed for the team that is always tough to beat any day, anytime. History certainly points to an Indomitable Lions win, in the 14 previous matches between the pair they have won eight, with four draws and just two losses. Their last meeting was a 2-2 draw in the first round of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.
Unfortunately for the Carthage Eagles, main striker Oussama Darragi is missing for this crucial clash with key defenders, Karim Hagui and
Aymen Abdennour also ruled out. Caretaker coach, Ruud Krol will be hoping that forward, SAMI ALLAGUI is up for this one. SABER KHALIFA is another key man to watch out for.
They have been boosted by the return of SAMUEL ETO’O who will bring is experience, creativity, and attacking prowess to the squad. Midfielders, Stephane Mbia and Cedric Raoul Loe are out injured. Coach Volker Finke has also invited striker MOHAMMADOU IDRISSOU who has scored seven goals this season to his squad.
Preview: Burkina Faso VS Algeria
Date: Saturday, October 12, 2013
Venue: Stade du 4-Août
The Stade du 4-Août was opened in 1984 after being commissioned by the Burkina Faso government. It can house a little over 40 000 spectators.
Algeria will enter the tie as favourites, given they have reached the World Cup on three previous occasions, including the 2010 event in South Africa. They did not win a match at that tournament but breezed through qualifying, winning five of their six matches to top Group H by seven points and they have been undefeated in the last eight matches.
For Burkina Faso, her bid to qualify for their first FIFA World Cup will be tested in the first leg of their play-off against Algeria on Saturday. Paul Put’s side have dramatically improved in recent years and they will take confidence from their showing at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. In a tournament they had traditionally struggled in, Burkina Faso defeated the likes of Ethiopia, Togo and Ghana as they reached the final before losing to Nigeria 1-0.
Making the final represented significant progress for the nation and they carried that form into their qualifying campaign, winning four of their six Group E qualifiers to top the table. They started slowly, losing to Congo and
Gabon, but a 4-0 win over Niger in March proved the catalyst for a run of form that saw them win four successive matches. Away wins, both by 1-0 score lines in Niger and Congo, proved crucial and Burkina Faso sealed their progression to the final stage of qualifying with a 1-0 win over Gabon. That result, coupled with Congo’s 2-2 draw in Niger, meant they finished on top of the group by one point.
BURKINA FASO –
ALAIN TRAORE and JONATHAN PITROIPA have always been in an inspiring form for the Stallions. MOUMONI DAGANO, ARISTIDE BANCE and defensive players CHARLES KABORE, FLORENT ROUAMBA, DJAKARIDJA KONE and BAKARY KONE are very notable figures that can stop the Algerians.
Sporting Lisbon striker ISLAM SLIMANI scored five qualifying goals for Algeria, Crystal Palace man ADLENE GUEDIOURA is another key figure in the midfield and playing behind him is captain, MADJID BOUGHERRA.