The road to Brazil 2014 begins in earnest with many African sides looking towards South America as their journey unfolds.
Kenya and Zimbabwe will have to keep smiles on the faces of their home fans as they battle Malawi and Guinea respectively, while Botswana will aim to register an away win in the Central African Republic.
Kenya – Malawi | Saturday, June 2 Venue: Nairobi
The Flames are already in Nairobi for their first World Cup qualifier against the Harambee Stars on Saturday. Coach Kinnah Phiri has already shown respect to his opponents, but warned that they are in for a tough time. “Kenya is a very good team, very tactical and we have enough respect for them,” he said to reporters. “We have played them several times and they are not a team to be taken lightly.”
CAR – Botswana | Saturday, June 2 Venue: Bangui
Central African Republic and Botswana are both in Group A and will kick off their campaign in Bangui on Saturday. The Wild Beasts are seen as the underdogs since they have never qualified for the global showpiece and the continental flagship. The Zebras made it to their maiden Africa Cup of Nations this year, and such an experience puts them in a better position to put CAR in check. Botswana will be without star midfielder Magogi Gabonamong and captain Mompathi Thum.
Sierra Leone – Cape Verde | Saturday, June 2 Venue: Freetown
Sierra Leone is going into this game without their key man Rodney Strasser. The AC Milan midfielder is still suffering from an ankle injury he suffered in training on Wednesday. The Leone Stars will still have to delight their fans at home with their opening game at the Freetown Stadium.
Gambia – Morocco | Saturday, June 2 Venue: Bakau
The Atlas Lions have already served notice they are going to devour the Scorpions at their own backyard on Saturday. Coach Eric Gerets is hopeful of securing a result at the Independence Stadium in Bakau in their 2014 World Cup qualifier. The northern African side means business and are in Banjul with a powerful delegation accompanied by former Sporting Lisbon, Deportivo La Coruna and Tottenham Hotspur defender, Noureddine Naybet, who now works with the Moroccan FA.
Senegal – Liberia | Saturday, June 2 Venue: Dakar
The Teranga Lions are going into this qualifying game as the wounded side in terms of injuries and the Lone Stars must capitalise on it to gain some points at the Stade Leopold. Senegal will be without Demba Ba and the injured quartet of Issar Dia, Kader Mangane, Souleymane Diawara and Pape Malickou Diakhate for Saturday's Group J match in Dakar.
Sudan – Zambia | Saturday, June 2 Venue: Khartoum
Group D’s toughest game is between the Falcons of Jediane and the Chipolopolo in Khartoum. The ruling African champions will be looking forward to maintain a fine form after their sterling 2012 Africa Cup of Nations feat which resulted in their maiden continental trophy. A win against Sudan will boost their confidence level since their next game is against mighty Ghana.
Burkina Faso – Congo | Saturday, June 2 Venue: Ouagadougou
Burkina Faso are going into their first competitive game after a disappointing Africa Cup of Nations showing in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. It is going to be coach Paul Put’s debut and snatching all points at home in their opening World Cup group E qualifier in Ouagadougou will be a welcoming start.
Niger – Gabon | Sunday, June 3 Venue: Niamey
Africa’s rising side Niger will play host to the 2012 Nations Cup co-hosts Gabon at the Stade General Seyni Kountche in Niamey. It is going to be everyone’s game, but the Panthers seem to have the upper hand with their experienced squad although they are the visiting side.
Zimbabwe – Guinea | Sunday, June 3 Venue: Harare
Zimbabwe kicked off their first round qualifying campaign for South Africa 2013 on a shaky note. They lost 2-1 against Botswana. A win at home in their 2014 World Cup Group G qualifier against Guinea will be a morale booster. Coach Rahman Gumbo of Zimbabwe knows what to expect and it seems he is telling his charges exactly what to do. “It won’t be an easy match, so we need to be fully prepared," he said at a press conference.
Benin – Mali | Sunday, June 3 Venue: Cotonou
The Squirrels are hoping for a successful qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014, after having qualified for three of the last five Afcon. The national team has been handed over to former France international Manuel Amoros, who has been tasked purposely for qualification and same applies to his counterpart on the Malian side Amadou Pathe Diallo.
Angola – Uganda | Sunday, June 3 Venue: Luanda
The Palancas Negras have been training in Portugal ahead of this game and recorded impressive results over club sides in warm-up games. The Cranes will be playing at the November 11 Stadium with the hopes of restoring that painful 2-0 defeat in the hands of the southern Africans during the 2012 Afcon qualifiers at the same venue.