Ethiopia v South AfricaNo one wants to have to go to Addis Ababa having to win a game. Some would say no one wants to go to Addis Ababa at all. An intimidating atmosphere is to be expected when a football-mad, match-going country hasn’t qualified for a World Cup in their history, not to mention being the second most populous African country. And then there’s the factor of altitude that the Bafana Bafana will have to do their best to negotiate their way around. At some 2,400 metres above sea level, Addis Ababa is a difficult city to acclimatise to – research suggests acclimatising to high altitude takes approximately three weeks. So much is at stake: a win for Ethiopia and they’re through to the World Cup play-offs; an opportunity for the world to zoom their eyes on a slick, quintessentially Ethiopian style of football that has, seemingly, been untouched.
If South Africa want be able to remote-control their destiny come September, it is a must-win game. The reverse fixture ended in a 1-1 draw, but a lot has changed since then. Then, South Africa were 11 individuals. Now, the Bafana Bafana are rolling in the afterglow of an encouraging Afcon as hosts, continuing their progress with an impressive 3-0 win away (neutral venue) to Central African Republic. Amidst the Ethiopian exultancy, courage and not-in-my-house defending will certainly be needed in abundance. And with the superb Itumeleng Khune between the sticks and a well-drilled defensive system, they’re more than capable of keeping it tight and escaping with a draw. But that won’t be good enough. Will their attack, which is still formulating, be able to convert? It’s one thing beating CAR at a neutral venue, another thing beating Ethiopia in Addis Ababa.
Libya v Togo
Uneasy tensions constitute this week’s headlines concerning Group I’s clash in Tripoli. DR Congo, who were situated in Tripoli just last week, protested the bellicose environment that reigned in the Libyan capital. Claude LeRoy lodged official complaints to the CAF and FIFA to relocate the fixture, but, in the end, Libya made their anticipated homecoming.
Fortunately, the match was contested without incident and Libya upheld their strong home form in a nil-nil draw. Ahmed Saad puppeteered play and fashioned chance after chance for Mohamed Ghanudi and Omar Abdelsalem. Sadly, for the Tripoli faithful, the men in red were inefficient in front of goal. Early in the first half, Saad saw his penalty blocked by the ever-effervescent Bobby Kidiaba. If Libya are to extend their minute lead in Group J, the vanguard will need to find their ruthlessness.
Togo are understandably apprehensive concerning player safety and have lodged their own complaint with football’s governing bodies. Thus far, the usually hapless Togolese FA has managed to relocate the match from Benghazi to Tripoli. The move has not assured Alaixys Romao and Serge Gakpe who have claimed that the match was not worth their life. It is to be seen if, in the end, they will make the trip.
The yellow and green Sparrowhawks of Togo created a surprise of their own during the previous matchday. Serge Gakpe and his teammates got the better of the quite Domitable Lions in Lomé, winning 2-0. With another victory, Togo can leap from last in their group to first in the short matter of two matches.
Congo v Burkina Faso
The reverse fixture, played in Ouagadougou in June 2012, ended in a goalless draw. But Congo were handed a 3-0 victory in December by FIFA after Burkina Faso were adjudged to have fielded an ineligible player in the form of Cameroon-born Herve Zengue.
As long as Congo avoid defeat at the Stade Municipal on Saturday, they will qualify for the World Cup play-offs. With a commendable record of conceding no goals in five games of qualifying, you’d wager that they’ll avoid defeat at the very least. However, they will be facing a Burkina Faso side whose valiant, energy-sapping run to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in January has done wonders for the formulation of the familial feel in their frat. They crushed a stubborn Niger side 4-0 at home in March and then, to continue their Afcon 2013 trademark, scored a late winner through the willowy Jonathan Pitroipa last weekend in the away leg.
DR Congo v Cameroon
As we enter the penultimate group game of the African World Cup qualifiers, things could not be tighter and points important than in Group I, in which DR Congo take on Cameroon.
With only goal difference separating top-of-the group Cameroon and chasers Libya on 6 points, and DR Congo only one point behind them with 5 and Togo one point behind DR Congo, it could all very much swing on this weekend’s matches.
The last round of games saw Cameroon succumb 2-0 to Togo in Lome, in a game in which the Cameroon midfield comprehensively failed to break down the home side’s defence, losing out on the counter-attack to the Sparrowhawks. Whilst the four defensive midfielders they played against Togo proved a hindrance, they may be more useful against DR Congo – especially with top scorer Tresor Mputu very much on form for his country. The TP Mazembe man lies joint 3rd in the scoring charts overall for qualifying, so the Indomitable Lions will need to suffocate both his creativity and shots if they want to win on Sunday.
However, most likely without Samuel Eto’o (he’s a doubt) to bang in the goals, and the hosts having only conceded one goal during the whole of qualifying thus far, Finke may need to rethink his strategy if Cameroon want to avoid the possibility of a final-game decider against Libya in September.
Rwanda v Algeria
‘President! President! We want more money!’ Came the chants from the Algerian dressing room following their 3-1 win in Cotonou Sunday morning. There reigned a spirit of togetherness and jubilance as Les Fennecs picked up a stylish win on the road. Their victory places their destiny firmly in their own hands and gifts Halilhodzic and co. a cheeky advantage for their ‘final’ vs. Mali come September.
They head to Kigali knowing that a win, and anything but for Mali, would send Algeria to the next round. Vahid and his delegation have decided to land in Kigali a day earlier than originally planned to acclimatize to conditions.
Like their counterparts, Rwanda head into Sunday’s match in high spirits. The Amuvabi clawed and grasped at a tie in Bamako, but interim Coach Eric Nshimiyimana still called their exploit ‘a victory’.
He has recently extolled the qualities of his young side (The average age of the Rwanda squad is 22) He even summoned Alfred ‘Freddy’ Mugabo for what is to be his first cap with the senior side. Mugabo impressed with Rwanda in the U17 world cup in 2011 at the tender age of 15. It is to be seen if the baby Wasps can sting the more experienced Fennecs.
Uganda v Angola
New Uganda coach Milutin Micho Sredojevic’s first game in charge last weekend, a 1-0 win over Liberia, was characterised by a string of brazen moves, swinging the axe on those out of form. There were to changes in defence, with Saint George’s duo Robert Odangkara, the goalkeeper, and Isaac Isinde, the young centre-back, coming in for Abdel Dhaira and Henry Kalungi; in midfield, Kizito Luwwaga came in for Moses Oloya.
With only 2 points separating first-placed Senegal and bottom-placed Liberia in Group J, wins for the any of the teams in the group will be a huge psychological boost. But with all the teams, bar Senegal, lacking potency in attacking areas, we could see another string of draws. “My strikers, my strikers, you’re not scoring even in training,” lamented Micho in Monday’s training session. And rightly so. Despite their 8-year unbeaten home record, you could argue that it’s their frugality in front of the net which has robbed Uganda of major tournament qualification in recent years.
Angola, meanwhile, are looking a lot healthier after an unmemorable Afcon. Whilst Senegal would have won the game with slightly tidier finish, the same could be said for the Negras. When they’re playing in the Estadio 11 de Novembro they move the ball with the exuberant flair that caresses the heart. Yet there seems a mental block in transforming that sort of form to foreign venues. Going to Kampala is not easy and will be a huge test of their psyche.
Mali v Benin
Mali’s long-awaited return to Bamako underwhelmed the vast majority of spectators. With no Patrice Carteron on the touchline, Pathé Diallo had the problematic task of taking 3 points off of Rwanda. Opposition striker Meddy Kegere complicated matters when he pounced on a Mahamadou N’Diaye waffle pass and put his Wasps up 1-0. Despite many Adama Tamboura incursions and Tongo Doumbia excursions, Les Aigles could only draw level after 90 minutes.
This week Pathé Diallo has called on the Malian faithful to turn up in numbers. A win is vital, as dropped points coupled with an Algeria win would spell automatic elimination from the World Cup Qualifiers. Six points from the next two matches are required to ensure progression to the next round.
As for Manuel Amoros and his Benin love story; it must be scaling its final stages. The former combative France international is under a torrent of pressure in Porto Novo. His decision to exclude veterans Mouritala Ogunbiyi and Razak Omotoyossi backfired, as the Squirrels didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with Algeria’s Fennecs. World Cup qualification is now but a pipe dream in Dahomey; nevertheless, Amoros has called for his players to turn up vs. Mali, saying his side were ready to play the ‘spoilsport’.
Seydou Keita and co. will try their utmost to keep that from happening!