Preview: 2010 W’Cup qualifiers
At least eight Liberian fans died at a 2010 World Cup qualifying game
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This weekend sees 23 matches across the continent in 12 qualifying groups with Chad, Gabon, Lesotho, Sudan and Swaziland all playing for the first time while Zambia have a bye.
It will be the midway point of a tough month of matches for all 47 participants, who are playing on four successive weekends.
Tunisia, who named Humberto Coelho as new coach to replace Roger Lemerre from next month, are virtually at full strength with only injured Le Mans defender Sabeur Ben Frej missing for their away game against Seychelles on Saturday in Group 9.
They scored three goals on their last trip to the Indian Ocean islands last year when they won a qualifying match for the 2008 Nations Cup finals.
Meanwhile Burkina Faso host Burundi expecting to build on the shock success in Tunisia fashioned by two late goals from Norway-based striker Issouf Kone.
Two other leading contenders travel to Indian Ocean islands for matches, with Cameroon at Mauritius in Group 1 and the Ivory Coast taking on Madagascar in Antananarivo in Group 7.
“It is a match that is going to be a steep learning curve for our young players,” said Mauritius coach Ashok Chundasing.
Lemerre is still in charge of Tunisia for their game in Seychelles
The Ivory Coast will again be without Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, who have not joined the squad after their club’s defeat in last month’s Champions League final in Moscow.
Their absence, along with a string of injuries in the squad, ensured the Ivory Coast struggled to beat Mozambique 1-0 last Sunday.
Elephants’ coach Vahid Halilhodzic has hinted at his unhappiness with his players’ attitudes.
“There are too many structural problems in this national team and they are too difficult to try and manage,” he said.
“I don’t have time for that and I will not run after players. I work only with those that have bothered to turn up.”
Another big-name football nation suffering some anxiety are South Africa as they host Equatorial Guinea in Group 4.
South Africa cannot afford to drop any more points after their 2-0 loss in Nigeria last weekend and this weekend they entertain
While Bafana Bafana are guaranteed a place at the 2010 World Cup as the hosts, they must finish among the top two to stay in contention for a Nations Cup slot in Angola the same year.
“They had no passion or desire, could not string together more than three passes and got their tactics wrong,” was the damning verdict of former Bafana striker Shaun Bartlett after the Nigeria game.
In the other Group 4 match Nigeria visit Sierra Leone, a lowly team who could trouble the Super Eagles more than the defensively brittle and unimaginative South Africans.
But the Leone Stars are without striker Paul Kpaka for the match after he fell out with coach Ahmed Kanu.
Kpaka, who has just signed for Germinal Beerschot in Belgium, refused to join the training camp as he is angry with Kanu for not even naming him as substitute as Sierra Leone lost 2-0 in Equatorial Guinea.
Kanu, however, is not worried by the situation: “I’m not even considering Kpaka’s absence; if a player is not available then I have to make sure that I give chance to other players.”
Leone Stars captain Mohamed Kallon has also learnt this week that he is suspended for the game after picking up yellow cards in Sierra Leone’s last two internationals.
Ghana were impressive 3-0 victors over Libya in Kumasi and the threat from opponents Lesotho has been diluted because their national stadium is unavailable and the Group 5 fixture switched to neighbouring South Africa.
Morocco travel south to Mauritania in Group 8, Guinea jet across Africa to Kenya in Group 2.
Senegal visit neighbours Gambia in Group 6 and Mali travel east to face Chad in Group 10.
Angola and Togo, shock qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup, are also travelling, with the Palancas Negras confronting Niger in Group 3 while the Hawks meet Swaziland in Group 11.