World Cup 2014 Qualifying Round 4 Preview

Qualification will be all but assured if Nabil Maaloul's Tunisia beat Sierra Leone.

Qualification will be all but assured if Nabil Maaloul's Tunisia beat Sierra Leone.

The business end of World Cup qualifying is upon us. SFG takes a look at a few of the fixtures you should keep an eye on this weekend.
Benin v Algeria
Very few are ever completely satisfied with a list of players selected by their national coach. However, few go as far as to attack the Coach with a water bottle. Yet that's exactly what happened to Manuel Amoros. The former French international retaliated violently and the exchange indicated tumult in the Beninese camp ahead of a crucial fixture against the Fennecs of Algeria. Amoros excluded an experienced troupe of players for the second straight match. Among them former Zamalek striker Razak Omotoyossi, and Nimes’ midfield maestro Muri Ogunbiyi. Amoros has been afforded a short leash thus far, but if the Squirrels fail to gain three points during this next matchday, he will undoubtedly face unbearable pressure as Benin will have surrendered their quick advantage which took everyone by surprise.

Algeria head into the match in high spirits after winning a relaxed friendly vs. Burkina Faso on home soil. 15 000 came out to watch Taider and co. carry out Halilhodzic’s instructions and the team looks fit and ready for their upcoming two road matches. A bad omen for the North Africans is that they have never won a match in Benin.

Coach Vahid has been playing Carl Medjani as an anchor in midfield, presumably to counteract Stephane Sessegnon’s presence in midfield. Benin will have to reverse the tactics employed in the first leg. In Blida, they  counter-attacked quickly and played resolute defensible lines. Now pressed for 3 points, they will want to monopolize possession and fashion chances from open play.

Sudan v Ghana

The Falcons of Jediane seem resigned to the fact that they won’t make it to the World Cup and thus have started the rebuilding process, as mirrored by a largely callow squad and an axing of the majority of the Al Hilal-Al Merreikh network. Coach Mohamed Mazda Abdallah looks to be exercising his prudency after disappointing recent results and failure to qualify for Afcon 2013 thanks to their bête noire Ethiopia, shifting the focus to qualification for CHAN 2014 and Afcon 2015 instead.

For Ghana, meanwhile, it’s a must-not-lose game in arguably the most exultant atmosphere that African football has to offer; an atmosphere where things can take a sudden turn for the worse and arouse a the-whole-world-is-against-me feeling, especially on feverish Friday evenings. Trailing Zambia by a solitary point, defeat will mean, to quote Wu Tang Clan’s CREAM, ‘times are rough and tough like leather’ in a nation that has come to expect. But a draw will leave them firmly in touch with Zambia for a potential mouth-watering final round group-winner decider in Kumasi.

Morocco v Tanzania

Simply a must-win home game for the self-destructing Atlas Lions if they want to qualify for the World Cup; in fact, all their remaining games are, and they must hold their breath to hope that Cote d’Ivoire drop points in the next two games. More crucially, it’s a must-win game for coach Rachid Taoussi in terms of alleviating pressure. A defeat could very well seal his fate and a draw, whilst better, won’t necessarily give him a break. Although Younes Belhanda, Ahmed Kantari and Albdelhamid El Kaoutari have been recalled, there still remains a major question mark about Taoussi’s decision to largely pick homegrown players. Is the quality good enough to overcome well organised teams like Tanzania?

For Tanzania, it’s a chance to chart just exactly where on the upward curve of their development they are. The Taifa Stars are no strangers to excursions in North Africa with a valiant 1-1 draw v Algeria and a 3-1 loss to Morocco during Afcon 2012 qualification, not to mention nouveau riche Azam FC recently bowing out in the second round of the Confederation Cup to Morocco’s FAR Rabat. As ever, Tanzania will be looking to the deadeye finishing of Mbwana Samatta and the poise of Salum ‘Sure Boy Jr’ Abubakar in midfield, but it’s their defence which will have to maintain focus. A win or a credible draw and those stargazing at the Taifa Stars will be even more cheery.

Sierra Leone v Tunisia

A win for Tunisia and Sierra Leone and the rest of Group B may as well get their proverbial binoculars out, for Tunisia will be out of sight. Whilst some may scoff at the formality of Group B, you get the sense that few African teams are better well-rounded than The Carthages Eagles in terms of personnel. The young team seems to have all the foundations for a good team, the trouble seems to be forming a cohesive unit and varying the approach when they’re confronted with physicality. With Nabil ‘Tunisian Mourinho’ Maaloul now on board to steer the ship, they will certainly become more of a well-oiled machine.

They won’t have this match their own way, however. Sierra Leone are one of Africa’s rising forces and, having appointed 27-year-old Johnny McKinstry as coach last month, will hope to be windmilled forward by the New Manager Effect to make the 5-point deficit to Tunisia more palpable. Like the Morocco-Tanzania clash, this clash is also an opportunity for Sierra Leone to track where they are on their development. Tunisia’s last visit to Sierra Leone was a frightful 2-2 draw in the Afcon 2013 play offs, the svelte Youssef Msakni scoring an 87th-minute leveller. With the second leg ending 0-0, that away goal would prove decisive in sending Tunisia to Afcon.

Mali v Rwanda

Like Benin, Mali and Rwanda both have their share of managerial misfortune.

Patrice Carteron, who led Mali to consecutive AFCON semi-finals, unexpectedly signed with TP Mazembe. The Malian FA then threatened legal action, but the process could take long and Les Aigles find themselves with but an interim manager. They will look forward to a return to their homeland for inspiration. Mali has not been allowed a proper home match in several months, having to deputize in neighbouring Burkina Faso.

The wasps of Rwanda are in no better situation as Coach ‘Micho’ was let go following quasi-elimination. With Brazil 2014 out of the question, the Rwandan FA has decided to make domestic football their priority. Interim AMAVUBI coach Eric Nshimiyimana said:

‘“We have spent a month following players playing in the Primus league and we will solely field local players because we want to have as many of them getting the needed exposure ahead of the CHAN finals in 2016.”

“The country’s policy is to give a chance to Rwandan players and for two or three years, we will stop relying fully on professional players but put emphasis on identifying potential players plying their trade in local first and second division leagues.”

A grassroots approach has thus been adopted. One that should see-long term amelioration; hopefully not at the expense of their level of competition.

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