Twelve groups representing 47 African countries will start competing to qualify for 2010's football World Cup in South Africa. Only five will represent the continent. Eritrea withdrew from the competition.
The contest to produce five African representatives beside hosts and automatic qualifers South Africa at the 2010 World Cup begins in earnest this weekend with 23 second-round fixtures.
All 12 group winners plus the best eight runners-up advance to the third and final phase of a competition doubling as an elimination process for the African Nations Cup in Angola earlier the same year.
Some top second round seeds like Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Tunisia are set for comfortable passages through the six-match programme, but there is no guarantee former World Cup qualifiers Senegal and Togo will join them.
1. Cameroon, 2. Cape Verde Islands, 3. Tanzania, 4. Mauritius
Cameroon, runners-up to Egypt in the 2008 African Nations Cup, could field a reserve team and still finish first while Tanzania might pip Cape Verde Islands for second spot and the best Mauritius can hope for is some home points.
Verdict: Cameroon at a canter from Tanzania
1. Guinea, 2. Zimbabwe, 3. Namibia, 4. Kenya
Potentially the most competitive pool with each country capable of beating the others. Guinea reached 2008 Nations Cup quarter-finals before imploding against Ivory Coast and playmaker Pascal Feindouno is a class act.
Verdict: Greater experience should see Guinea shade Zimbabwe
1. Angola, 2. Benin, 3. Uganda, 4. Niger
Angola were shock qualifiers for 2006 World Cup at expense of Nigeria and they have unearthed a new star in Manchester United-bound striker 'Manucho'. Little to separate hard-working but goal-shy Benin from improving Uganda.
Verdict: Angola should not be unduly troubled and Uganda can finish second
1. Nigeria, 2. South Africa, 3. Equatorial Guinea, 4. Sierra Leone
Nigeria are favoured despite horror Nations Cup campaign in Ghana as they made meek last-eight exit to 10-man hosts. South Africa are poor travellers while home win over Cameroon confirmed that Equatorial Guinea are improving.
Verdict: Nigeria to continue dominance over likely runners-up South Africa
1. Ghana, 2. Libya, 3. Gabon, 4. Lesotho
A more clinical attack could have lifted Ghana to at least second spot instead of third at recent Nations Cup and resignation of French coach Claude le Roy leaves them vulnerable against hyper-ambitious Libya, and Gabon.
Verdict: Ghana from Libya and Gabon, but could go down to the wire
1. Senegal, 2. Algeria, 3. Liberia, 4. Gambia
Senegal have mere shadow of squad that took 2002 World Cup by storm as they reached quarter-finals. Algeria have also experienced better times, leaving Liberia as potential party poopers under young German coach Antoine Hey.
Verdict: Liberia could deprive Senegal or Algeria of third-round slot
1. Ivory Coast, 2. Mozambique, 3. Botswana, 4. Madagascar
No contest on paper with Didier Drogba-inspired Ivory Coast on far higher plateau than modest rivals, the best of whom should be a Mozambique squad showing consistent improvement under Dutch coach Mart Nooij.
Verdict: Seeding appears spot on with Ivorians leading and Mozambicans next
1. Morocco, 2. Ethiopia, 3. Rwanda, 4. Mauritania
Similar to previous group in that Morocco are hot favourites to come first, but do not write off even lowest seeds Mauritania in what could be an exciting tussle for second spot with poor away form hampering all three contenders.
Verdict: Morocco certain of top spot and Rwanda capable of coming second
1. Tunisia, 2. Burkina Faso, 3. Burundi, 4. Seychelles
Tunisia may have qualified for last three World Cup tournaments, but they are battling to replace French coach Roger Lemerre with compatriots Bertrand Marchand and Jacques Santini saying 'non'. Luckily, they are in weak group.
Verdict: It must be Tunisia with Burkina Faso the best of the rest
1. Mali, 2. Congo, 3. Sudan, 4. Chad
Only Chad can be discounted as Mali under Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi seek to improve on disastrous 2006 World Cup campaign against hard-to-beat Congo and a Sudan side capable of better than woeful 2008 Nations Cup showing.
Verdict: Mali from Sudan and Congo in close chase
1. Togo, 2. Zambia, 3. Swaziland. Original third seeds Eritrea withdrew
Promises to be a shootout between shock 2006 World Cup qualifiers Togo and Zambia with Swaziland nowhere. Withdrawal of Eritrea means teams play two games less, leaving runners-up with little chance of making third round.
Verdict: Having to stage home games at neutral venue may count against Togo
1. Egypt, 2. Democratic Republic of Congo, 3. Malawi, 4. Djibouti
Although Egypt won a record sixth Nations Cup title three months ago they dare not underestimate the talented if temperamental Congolese while Malawi have improved lately under new coach and former star Kinnah Phiri.
Verdict: Egypt to finish first followed by DR Congo
Date created : 2008-05-29