Thursday, October 11, 2007

Last Licks on Road to Ghana 2008

This is it!

We wind down qualification for the 2008 African Cup of Nations in Ghana this weekend with the final games in Groups Two and Nine.

Reigning champions Egypt are favorites for one of the places, as they need only to avoid defeat at home to Botswana on Saturday.

Egypt will be without injured duo Mido and Mohamed Barakat for the match against Botswana but have Hamburg striker Mohamed Zidan back after he missed their last match in Burundi.

A shock win for Botswana could put them through to their first Nations Cup finals appearance but only if Burundi fail to win in Mauritania in the other Group Two match in Nouakchott on Saturday.

Wins for Burundi and Botswana would see the two teams finish top of the group tied on 10 points each and equal on head-to-head record meaning that goal difference will come into play. Could get very interesting indeed.

Over to Group Nine, where there's a three-way race for the qualifying berth. Just a point separates Mali, Togo and Benin.

All three can win top place and qualify. Benin could finish second and still go through to the finals as one of the best runners-up.

Mali and Togo are both on nine points, although Mali will finish above Togo on a head-to-head count if there is a draw in Friday's match between the two in Lome.

But a draw in that game could allow unheralded Benin to come from behind and win the group.

Benin, with eight points, are away to Sierra Leone and a win for the Squirrels (gotta love that nickname) on Friday will guarantee their place in the finals.

The Squirrels warmed up for and promoted their qualifier with a 2-2 draw in a 30 minute game against a team of ministers and officials on Tuesday.

Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi scored a final-minute penalty for his team of ministers and officials to force the draw. (I wonder if the referee was paid off to give him the penalty ...)

"It is to bring about the presence of my country in Ghana 2008 that I scored that goal," Yayi said after stroking home the penalty.

Togo are expected to have Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor back for his first run in the team since March.

Adebayor is still saying he's owed bonus payments after Togo's qualification for last year's World Cup finals. He boycotted recent matches.

But Adebayor told officials he would make himself available for the game.

His return has prompted Mali coach Jean Francois Jodar to say, "We should not fear Adebayor because if we tremble because of him then what will happen if we face the likes of (Didier) Drogba, (Samuel) Eto'o and others in the Nations Cup finals."

Mali are at full strength for the match with Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute leading their attack.

One team not in action this weekend but who will have a very close eye on the action in Group Nine will be Uganda, who are still hopeful of qualifying as one of the best runners-up if results go their way.

It's going to be an exciting finish to the qualifiers. Make sure to catch them if you can!

And on we go to Ghana 2008 ...

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