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The journey to the Orange Africa Cup of Nations Gabon / Equatorial Guinea 2012 begins with a step from here…

Benin – Burundi Kick-off: Sunday, September 5. 16:00 (CET), Stade de l’Amitié, Cotonou

Both teams from Group H will lock horns in Benin’s capital Cotonou with a true mission of obtaining some advantage capable of creating some guarantee for the rest of the competition ahead of a jam against Rwanda and group’s heavyweights Cote D’Ivoire. Burundi have never qualified for the AFCON finals while Benin have made it thrice but this time, both sides as well as Rwanda would vie to be second on the ticket behind Cote D’Ivoire, no matter what, to reach the biennial tournament.

Prediction: Benin 2:0 Burundi

Cape Verde – Mali Kick-off: Saturday, September 4. 16:00 (CET), Estádio da Várzea, Praia

With post-Angola 2010 coach Alain Giresse determined to redress Mali’s football after so many ignoble campaigns despite a crop of European-based stars in their bunch, expect an offensive approach of The Eagles against the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde, who have never tasted any AFCON finals since the founding of the team in 1982. But the Malian set up is a bit contracted to locals following the absence of veterans like Sevilla’s Frédéric Oumar Kanouté, Seydou Keita of Barcelona and Momo Cissokho of Juventus. However, Giresse told the local media he could obtain an away win, no matter the score margin. You might want to know the reason behind his confidence, when his team, housed in Group A, is matched up with two other playable sides – Zimbabwe and Liberia. 

Prediction: Cape Verde 1:2 Mali

Gambia – Namibia Kick-off: Sunday, September 5, Independence Stadium, Bakau

With the withdrawal of Mauritania from the 2012 AFCON campaigns, Group F is left with The Gambia, Namibia and Burkina Faso, slashing down the task to qualify probably, but the race remains tense especially for Gambia, who have not qualified for any African Cup of Nations finals. But playing host to Namibia, who have participated only twice (1998 and 2008), crashing out each time in the group stage, may not be hard nut to crack for The Scorpions, recently invigorated with young players from the junior teams. However, the mission here will be to grab a comfortable or dependable lead ahead of Burkina Faso encounter, which will surely be a decider for both.

Prediction: Gambia 2:0 Namibia

Botswana – Togo Kick-off: Saturday, September 4. 16:00 (CET), Botswana National Stadium, Gaborone

Pundits deem Togo favourites for this encounter, forgetting The Zebras are very apt at exploiting their home advantage and who are currently leaders of Group K with six points. Secondly, The Sparrow Hawks are yet to show how efficient they can fight without the presence of Manchester City’s goal hunter Emmanuel Adebayor, who left the set up in the wake of the Cabinda (Angola) attack on the team’s bus en route to participate in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations. Swelling the list of Togo’s absentees are Alaixys Romao, Thomas Dossèvi, Kossi Agassa and Guillaume Brenner. However, Coach Thierry Froger told reporters in Lomé before their departure for Gaborone on Thursday that his current squad would make it in Group K, which also includes Malawi, Chad and Tunisia.

Prediction : Botswana 0:0 Togo

Sudan – Congo Kick-off: Saturday, September 4. 22:30 (CET), Khartoum Stadium

Congo have struggled for decades to revive their football after winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 1972 and falling into oblivion thereafter. The Red Devils last qualified for the AFCON finals in 2000, crashing out in the group stage, but in their Group I, where they pair against Ghana, Sudan and Swaziland, the journey to the finals don’t seem easy. Congo need to edge past perhaps Swaziland and Sudan to negotiate with Ghana. Sudan, nicely refreshed with youthful talents from local topflights Al-Hilal of Omdurman, are yearning to get to the AFCON finals this time as well, after seven participations and a title in 1970. The Congo – Sudan face-off will be a cracker.

Prediction Sudan 2:1 Congo

Mozambique – Libya Kick-off: Sunday, September 5. 14:00 (CET), Estádio da Machava, Maputo

Statistically, The Mambas of Mozambique have appeared four times at the Africa Cup of Nations finals (1986, 1996, 1998 and 2010) while Libya have shown up only twice (1982 and 2006) but rising to be runners-up in 1982. The Greens have not been brilliant as compared to The Mambas, who have shown some signs of improvement off late. However, both teams have one common rival in their Group C – Zambia, while the fourth member Comoros will have to brace themselves against the three predators.

Prediction Mozambique 2:1 Libya

Zambia – Comoros Kick-off: Saturday, September 4. 14:00 (CET), Nkoloma Stadium, Lusaka

The Coelecantes of Comoros are comparably no match for the Chipolopolo of Zambia. And to worsen the situation, Comoros are playing in the homeland of Zambia. Zambia have a reputation of one of the teams in Africa to be reckoned with, having appeared 14 times in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, becoming runners-up twice in 1974 and 1994. However, the secretary general of Zambia’s supporters association (ANTS) Bob Kayukwa, has warned the Chipolopolo against complacency, that a “football match is played on the field and not on paper.”

Prediction: Zambia 3:0 Comoros

Morocco – Central Africa Republic Kick-off: Saturday, September 4. 22:00 (CET), Complexe Sportif Prince Moulay Abdellah, Rabat

After 2004 when Morocco were runners-up in the Africa Cup of Nations, they have not shone again, crashing out in the group stage in 2006 and 2008, and falling to qualify in 2010. We see a gradual retrogression of one of continent’s powerhouses, having won the title in 1976. But there is a clear determination on the side of the FA (FRMF) to revamp the situation with no doubt starting from these qualifiers. But Central Africa Republic, known as one of the weakest of the continent, who deliberately withdrew from the AFCON 2010 qualifiers to concentrate on building their team, have been delivering some results of their seriousness, by winning the 2009 CEMAC Cup beating Gabon in the semis and Equatorial Guinea in the final. But are they sufficiently made to challenge Morocco and the rest of Group D - Algeria and Tanzania?

Prediction: Morocco 2:0 Central Africa Republic

Uganda – Angola Kick-off: Saturday, September 4. 14:00 (CET), Mandela National Stadium, Kampala

Despite appearing six times at the AFCON finals, Uganda have little to show the world of their football. But, playing against last edition’s hosts Angola, who are one of the toughest teams on the continent, The Cranes are aware of the task cut out for them. The Black Antelopes can’t fold arms to see their names not on the list of those heading for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in 2012, but the journey starts from here.

Prediction: Uganda 1:2 Angola

Liberia – Zimbabwe Kick-off: Sunday, September 5. 17:00 (CET) Samuel Kanyon Doe (SKD) Sports Complex, Paynesville

The Lone Stars of Liberia who have qualified only once for the Africa Cup of Nations are determined this time to get far. With a mixture of 23 local-based and 13 foreign-based players, the George Weah-inspired squad is confident of licking The Warriors of Zimbabwe led by Blackburn Rovers’ forward Benjani Mwaruwari.

Prediction: Liberia 1:0 Zimbabwe

DR Congo – Senegal Kick-off Sunday, September 5. 17:30 (CET), Le Stade de la Kenya, Lubumbashi

This will be perhaps one of the mouth-watering clashes of the weekend, considering the stern determination both teams have to clinch a ticket for the finals of the 2012 AFCON. Secondly, a comfortable result here would consolidate their situation ahead of the game against the super weights of their Group E – Cameroon, who play minnows Mauritius this weekend. Expect anything at the Kenya Stadium in Lubumbashi on Sunday, from an encounter Senegal say they would play as if they were at home.

Prediction: DR Congo 2:1 Senegal

Ethiopia – Guinea Kick-off Sunday, September 5. 14:00 (CET), Addis Ababa Stadium

Guinea have more recent realisations than Ethiopia, who had been a tough side across the ‘50s to early ‘80s, winning the AFCON title in 1962. But they have worn off in time, qualifying last for the finals in 1982. The Syli National of Guinea, who did not qualify for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, want to make up for it this time, hence the hiring of a new coach, the multiplication of friendlies and local tournaments. But playing The Walya Antelopes in their ground at Addis Ababa will cause the Guineans some sweat.

Prediction: Ethiopia 0:0 Guinea

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