The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa is just around the corner and the series of matches taking place this weekend will determine which countries will qualify to play on the grandest stage of all in African football.
The pick of the bunch is the game between Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal in Abidjan. It promises to be an explosive encounter between those two West African giants as they both have enormous firepower and talent to turn the tides against any side on their day.
Mali vs Botswana | Venue: Bamako Date: September 8, 2012
The last time these teams met in the final group game of the 2012 Afcon in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, the Malians edged that encounter 2-1 to set them up for the quarter-finals. This time around it will be for a ticket to South Africa next year. Expect a hard fought encounter but the Eagles, who placed third in the last Afcon, look capable of nicking this one at home.
Zambia vs Uganda | Venue: Lusaka Date: September 8, 2012
This game is so hotly anticipated that the tickets for the 44,000 seater Levy Mwanawasa Stadium were all sold out within five hours of going on sale on Wednesday morning. Zambia are defending African champions, which is the reason why many fans want to see their side in action. The Chipolopolo need to cement their place in next year’s tournament with a big win against the Cranes in this game. Expect the Ugandans to not go down without a fight though, as there has been talk of sticking it to the over-confident Zambians.
Cape Verde vs Cameroon | Venue: Praia Date: September 8, 2012
This game is a mismatch on paper - the Cape Verdeans have never qualified for a major tournament while the Cameroonians have won the African title four times. The last time the teams met in the qualification series for the 2010 World Cup, the Indomitable Lions dominated, winning both home and away. The Lions are coming into this game on the back of their recent impressive outing at the Nehru Cup in India.
Sierra Leone vs Tunisia | Venue: Freetown Date: September 8, 2012
The Leone Stars welcome the Carthage Eagles to Freetown as they search for only their third-ever Afcon ticket. Interestingly, both teams will also challenge for a 2014 World Cup place in Caf qualifying Group B.
Cote d'Ivoire vs Senegal | Venue: Abidjan Date: September 8, 2012
This is the weekend’s top match up. Choke boys Senegal go to Abidjan to face one of Africa’s strongest sides, Cote d’Ivoire in a crucial qualifying game. While the Ivorians have played together over the years and proven that they can challenge any team on a good day, the Teranga Lions will hope to return to the Afcon where they failed woefully at the last attempt. Elephants coach Sabri Lamouchi is expecting a difficult encounter: "We drew the toughest opponents. They are strong at the back and have a beautiful crop of experienced and talented strikers.”
DR Congo vs Equatorial Guinea | Venue: Kinshasa Date: September 8, 2012
Claude Le Roy called up 35 players for this encounter against Equatorial Guinea. The Leopards have not qualified for the tournament since 2006 and will hope to reach South Africa this time. They may anticipate that the progress made by TP Mazembe on the continent will rub off on them. Previous co-hosts Equatorial Guinea will hope to continue the progress made in their first ever showing when they reached the quarter finals at home. Expect a tough duel in Kinshasa.
Gabon vs Togo | Venue: Libreville Date: September 8, 2012
After a quarter-final finish at Afcon 2012, the Panthers will hope to make it to South Africa 2013 by taking an important home win against Togo this weekend. The Sparrow Hawks have not played at the Afcon since they dropped out of Angola 2010 due to the terrorist attacks that left their team decimated in Cabinda. They will see this game as an opportunity to finally lay the ghosts to rest.
Central African Republic vs Burkina Faso | Venue: Bangui Date: September 8, 2012
Central African Republic’s Wild Beasts welcome Burkina Faso’s Stallions to the Barthelemy Boganda Stadium in Bangui for a ticket to South Africa. While CAR have never qualified for the Nations Cup, Burkina Faso have played at eight tournaments and are seeking their ninth ticket.
Zimbabwe vs Angola Venue: Harare Date: September 9, 2012
The Brave Warriors host the Palancas Negras in Harare in a bid to play at next year’s Afcon across the border in South Africa. Both these southern African teams know each other well and even though the Angolans are the more successful side (having played at the World Cup and had a quarter-final Afcon finish), the Zimbabweans will look to make home advantage count.
Mozambique vs Morocco | Venue: Maputo Date: September 9, 2012
The Mambas welcome the Atlas Lions to Maputo for this game as they hope to secure a fifth Afcon ticket. Morocco go to Maputo without the services of Arsenal forward Marouane Chamakh who is injured, one of several squad members that will miss the trip. Mozambique’s German coach Gert Engels is relishing the tie: "My players are in good shape for the meeting on Sunday."
Guinea vs Niger | Venue: Conakry Date: September 9, 2012
The Syli Nationale finished as quarter-finalists at the last Afcon after stopping Nigeria from qualifying. They welcome 2012 Afcon debutants Niger to Conakry as they seek another good showing in South Africa.
Libya vs Algeria | Venue: Tripoli Date: September 9, 2012
These two sides will face each other with the confidence gained from their rising fortunes on the Fifa world rankings. While the Libyans have risen two places to 36 in the world, the Algerians leaped up six spots to become 28th. The Libyans are relishing a new found football experience since the Arab spring in 2011.