Welcome back for another look at World Cup qualifying, in case you forgot the World Cup is only 370 days away. African qualifying is only one game in to the second and final round, and it is going to get very interesting. There are five groups of four teams, the winner of each group gets a place in the World Cup. The first, second, and third place teams all qualify for the African Cup of Nations in Angola in January 2010.
Group One consists of Gabon, Togo, Morocco, & Cameroon. This group had some strange results on the first day when both Cameroon and Morocco lost. Cameroon lost away to Togo, while Morocco lost at home to Gabon. This sets up a very tight race for the World Cup place, I think it will be a two horse race between Gabon & Cameroon, with Togo grabbing the other place in Angola. This will be a big disappointment for Morocco who would have entered qualifying believing that they had a shot to make it to South Africa. The deciding matches will be the home and home series between neighbours Cameroon & Gabon. In the end I think that the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon will make their return to the World Cup.
Group Two has Tunisia, Mozambique, Nigeria, & Kenya. Much like Group One this group had a bit of an upset in the first match day with Nigeria only managing a draw away to Mozambique. The race for top spot in this group is only between Nigeria & Tunisia. Kenya should beat Mozambique to the other place in the Cup of Nations despite Mozambique's strong first result. For me the key to this group is consistency, Tunisia certainly aren't the best team in the group but they are the most consistent which is why I am predicting more heart break for the Super Eagles and their fans as Nigeria miss out on the World Cup.
Group Three features back to back African Champions Egypt, along with Zambia, Algeria & Rwanda. All of the first round matches ended in a draw, which is bad news for the Pharaohs given that they hosted Zambia in their first match. The next matches are key to the outcome of this group. Egypt travels to Algeria ahead of their trip to South Africa for the Confederations Cup. And they need to have three points in the bag, if they want to go to South Africa again next year. By the same token Zambia needs to get all three points at home against Rwanda to put pressure on the favoured Egyptians. If Algeria wins at home they have a shot at South Africa, and this easily becomes a three way battle. Rwanda will finish fourth and whichever team they take points off of will be in trouble. I think that Zambia will make their first trip to the World Cup in 2010, ahead of Egypt and Algeria. The Chipolopolo Boys have been playing extremely well under their new coach and I expect that to continue throughout qualifying.
Group Four is where we find Ghana, Sudan, Mali, & Benin. The next two games are crucial for Ghana as they play their two strongest opponents away. That means trips to Mali & Sudan if the Black Stars manage 4 points there then I think that they will book themselves a place in South Africa. This group is more of a three way battle for the remaining two Cup of Nations places. I think that Mali and Sudan will grab those in a hard fought battle.
Group Five is home to the West African showdown (and Malawi) with Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Guinea, Burkina Faso, & Malawi. Malawi qualified for the second round on the strength of their home form knocking of Egypt, Djibouti, & DR Congo if they are going to get anything out of this group they will need that form to continue, as you may have guessed I don't think that is going to happen. Anyone of Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, or Burkina Faso could qualify for South Africa. What it comes down to for me is that both Guinea & Burkina Faso will be up for their matches with their neighbour Côte d'Ivoire and will take some points from Les Elephants. Which means I think that it will be Burkina Faso advancing just ahead of Côte d'Ivoire & Guinea.
In summary I have Cameroon, Tunisia, Zambia, Ghana, & Burkina Faso joining with host nation South Africa as the six African nations vying to win the first World Cup in Africa.
I am interested to hear what you think , drop me a line and let me now what you think of my predictions. The next preview post will look at Asian Qualifying which wraps up in June. I will endeavour to get this post and the European preview up before the matches on Saturday. It is starting to get quite interesting in Asia & Europe as by the end of next week we could have some teams qualified for South Africa 2010!