Friday, October 10, 2008

African World Cup Qualifying


As the final weekend of the second round of African World Cup qualifying draws near, only Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria have guaranteed their place in the third and final phase.

The 12 group winners and the eight best second-placed sides will stay in the hunt for a place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. So what's at stake this weekend?

Everything! With the help of FIFA.com's trusty African Cup qualifying guide, let's take a look at the scenarios ...

Take into account that countries that finish level on points will be separated by: goal difference (GD), goals scored (GS) and then head-to-head record. Also worth noting is that results against the bottom side in each group will not be taken into account when the best second-placed sides are being decided. Confused? I am too ... anyways, here goes ... The 12 groups of African Cup qualifying are as follows:

Group 1: Lying in second spot and four points behind already-qualified Cameroon, none of Cape Verde Islands' other group rivals can match their nine-point tally. However, a win away to Tanzania this weekend would greatly increase their chances of qualifying as one of the eight best second-place sides.

Group 2: Though Kenya (10 points) and Guinea (8) are in pole position, Zimbabwe (6) are still in with a shout. Anything other than a reverse on Guinean soil would ensure Kenya qualify in first place, though defeat for Robert Nouzaret's Guinea would leave them hoping already-eliminated Namibia can deny visitors Zimbabwe all three points.

Group 3: Benin are already safely through and Niger are out of the running. Jostling for second place are Angola (GD +1) and Uganda (-2), currently on seven points apiece, who welcome Niger and Benin respectively.

Group 4: Guaranteed a third-round berth, Nigeria are set to host second-placed Sierra Leone on Saturday. Currently on seven points, three ahead of South Africa, three points for Sierra Leone would send them through to the next round, providing Equatorial Guinea remain in last place. The 2010 hosts, meanwhile, would still fail to qualify even with a win against the struggling Nzalang Nacional.

Group 5: Only a defeat away to Gabon and a Ghana victory over Lesotho can deny Libya a first-place finish. Should that scenario come to pass, the trio would be level on 12 points, their final positions decided by the previously outlined criterion. So, while the Libyans would appear to be well-placed, it could still go either way this weekend.

Group 6: Algeria (9 points) can guarantee their involvement in the next phase with an away win against Liberia, who are marooned in bottom place. Over in the Senegalese capital Dakar, meanwhile, Senegal and Gambia, level on eight points, are both chasing a victory that would seal top spot in case of an Algerian slip-up.

Group 7: Boasting a three-point lead at the top and an excellent goal difference, Côte d'Ivoire are unlikely to have lost their grip on first place after the visit of closest challengers Madagascar (6pts). And in case of defeat, the Madagascans could even find themselves edged out of second spot, depending on the result when Botswana (5pts, GD -4) host Mozambique (5pts, +1).

Group 8: A Moroccan win at home to Mauritania by any margin would take them ahead of current leaders Rwanda. Even if a one-goal success brings the sides' level on points and goal difference, Morocco will have the edge on goals scored.

Group 9: With both Burundi and Seychelles out of the running, all that remains is to see who finishes first and second between Burkina Faso and Tunisia. The Burkinabe travel to face Burundi with a three-point lead over the Carthage Eagles and a goal difference of +7 compared to +3. The Tunisians, however, who will host the Seychelles, are still well-placed to qualify either as group winners or one of the best second-placed sides.

Group 10:
By some distance the most open group, all four teams still have a mathematical possibility of qualifying in first place. Leaders Mali (9 points), who welcome fourth-placed Chad (6), appear to hold the best hand, given their superior goal difference and goals scored record. Third-placed Sudan (6), meanwhile, could knock Congo (9) from second spot with a win.

Group 11: Swaziland (4 points) will overtake Zambia (7) in top spot with a victory away to Germany 2006 qualifiers Togo (3). The Togolese, currently last in the three-team group, need all three points to stand any chance of taking a best second-place berth.

Group 12: Needing just a draw to ensure qualification in first place, reigning African champions Egypt (12 points) are not expected to come up short at home to Djibouti, bottom after five defeats from five games so far. Things could barely be tighter between Malawi and their visitors this weekend Congo DR, both on nine points. The away side are currently marginally ahead on goal difference and goals scored, but a win for either in Malawi's largest city Blantyre could seal a best second-place berth.

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