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Heavyweight bouts and a shock qualification await in Africa

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Piers Edwards | 08:12 UK time, Friday, 25 March 2011

The return of Africa Cup of Nations qualifying after a five-month absence throws up three heavyweight clashes this weekend, and the intriguing possibility of a first ever appearance at the continent's greatest sporting event for traditional minnows Botswana.

And although much attention will be cast towards the Chadian capital N'Djamena where a Botswana win would make the Zebras the first team to reach next January's finals, eyes will also be firmly focussed on Johannesburg, Annaba and Dakar.

In Senegal already, the inside of Cameroon coach Javier Clemente's head must be a fairly frazzled place at the moment - for the Spaniard has two fundamental issues to contend with as he prepares for Saturday evening's massive Nations Cup tie.

One prompts recollections of the 1990 World Cup, when a presidential decree from Paul Biya forced Roger Milla's inclusion in the squad - and we all know what happened next.

Amara Traore (centre), who was an unused substitute during Senegal's memorable 2002 World Cup display, has returned the good times thanks to a host of outstanding strikers

This time around, higher political powers in Cameroon have insisted upon the selection of Tottenham Hotspur left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Schalke midfielder Joel Matip.

So now Clemente has two players in his squad that he wasn't originally keen on - yet there's still no place for Arsenal's Alex Song though, so the post-World Cup rumbles go on.

However, his other problem is surely even greater - how on earth he's going to deal with Senegal's awesome foursome.

For Teranga Lions coach Amara Traore has an embarrassment of riches up front in Papiss Demba Cisse (Freiburg), Moussa Sow (Lille), Mamadou Niang (Fenerbahce) and Demba Ba (West Ham).

Cisse has led or been near the top of the Bundesliga scoring charts all season, Sow does lead in France, Niang is second top striker in Turkey - while Ba has plundered four goals in five league games for the Hammers.

Between them, they've scored over 60 goals this season - so perhaps it's no surprise that Senegal are the top scorers in Africa so far, with 11 goals from just two matches.

An opening win in DR Congo was followed by a 7-goal drubbing of Mauritius to leave the 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists top of Group E, two clear of Samuel Eto'o's Indomitable Lions.

Victory at home on Saturday and the Senegalese - revitalised since Traore took charge - could establish a five-point lead with just three qualifiers left.

A similar scenario will be playing out in Johannesburg where South Africa can take a six-point lead over none other than the African champions if they beat Egypt on Saturday.

This is the big one for Bafana Bafana, who failed to qualify for the 2010 Nations Cup but who have been on an upward curve since coach Carlos Alberto Parreira steadied the ship when taking charge shortly before the World Cup.

Yet anything other than victory is likely to prove problematic for Pitso Mosimane's side, as a draw at Ellis Park would leave the Pharaohs, bottom in Group G, with the chance to draw level with the 2010 World Cup hosts when playing Bafana Bafana in Cairo in June.

As has been widely reported, the Egyptians are short of competitive action, with the league suspended because of the revolution, while a mooted training camp in Oman was cancelled.

Elsewhere, Algeria's home clash with North African rivals Morocco in Annaba should be tasty - with the Desert Foxes needing a spark to revive their fortunes, while the Atlas Lions should be a different beast under Eric Gerets.

Demba Ba scores for West Ham

Senegal are spoilt for choice, with Demba Ba one of four strikers in the goals this season

Everyone knows how passionate the Algerians are but their team has been woeful since the World Cup - failing to beat Tanzania at home, prompting the resignation of coach Rabah Saadane, before then losing to surprise Group D leaders Central African Republic.

CAR are one of a number of surprise table-toppers, along with the likes of Cape Verde, Mozambique and Guinea, although Botswana stand out in Group K.

Having never come close to qualifying for the Nations Cup, the Zebras are a whopping six points clear - and stand on the verge of a historic qualification on Saturday.

It would be a remarkable feat for a country whose leading scorer Jerome Ramatlhakwane, with four goals, cannot even get a regular game with South African PSL side Vasco da Gama.

"This would be a big achievement for all of us and all followers of our team. We are not putting ourselves under any pressure - but the level of expectation back home is very high," admits coach Stanley Tshosane.

The Zebras' qualification would add some glorious technicolour to this qualifying round - and while these are the games I'll be following closely, let me know the match-ups which are grabbing you.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Cameroon v Snegal bound to be a great game, Senegal to win by more than two goals. South Africa to mummify the Pharaohs, we have their number. Mphela and Davide to score. Columns too few and far in between. I thought that any intervention by government wasn't condoned but I guess team selection doesn't fall within the scope then.

  • Comment number 2.

    Yes, Kenya is definitely headed for a win against Angola in Nairobi tomorrow. We are also praying for a draw between Uganda and Guinea Bissau. Then our hopes for Gabon and Equitorial Guinea will be revived.

  • Comment number 3.

    I would have loved to read at least a mention of East African countries - Uganda Kenya group.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Odooh - I shall endeavour to help. The BBC spoke to new coach Zedekiah Otieno who says he'll definitely be changing his line-up for the game against Angola. Already out are Patrick Oboyo, who hasn't been released by his club, and defender Musa Mohammed missed out with malaria. But what Otieno needs to do is find a goalscorer, as it's now two games since the Harambee Stars last scored.

    Matt - I like your thinking on governmental intervention! Matip, btw, isn't honouring the call-up, it seems, as he's yet to arrive in Dakar, hasn't contacted the federation and the game is just over 24 hours away now.

  • Comment number 5.

    @ Matt, I agree with you about the match. It will be a great match to watch. I just hope the two sides don't cancel each other out. That would be bad. I don't think it will though because both teams have AMAZING strikers.

  • Comment number 6.

    luizisthebest101....

    I don't think Cameroon has great strikers other than the greatest, Samuel Eto. Besides Eto, Cameroon's strikers are pretty ordinary. Or, to be a bit fair, the other Cameroon strikers cannot hold a candle to this current crop of Senegalese strikers. So, the Cameroonian defense has to be tight or else they would be shellacked! Although of Cameroonian descent, I am frankly expecting a defeat in Dakar although I pray for a nice surprise. If I as the Cameroon coach, I would play:

    Kameni
    Angbwa, N'Koulou, Chedjou, Elokobi
    M'Bia,Tchoyi, Eyong-Enoh
    Eto, Webo, Choupo-Moting

  • Comment number 7.

    darkanddom...

    I agree with you! However, I think Bienvenue Ntsama (not called) is comparable to N'doye and Niang in terms of performance (goal average per game) this season. Ntsama has about nine goals and did not feature much for his club due to injury!

    Vis a Vis your line up, I would play three central defenders (Nkoulou, M'bia and Bassong) with Abouna and Assou-Ekotto as wing backs (both are more offensive than Angbwa and Elokobi respectively)! Chedjou, Tchoyi and Nguemo (Enoh) in the midfield and Eto and Choupo up front in a 5 3 2 formation! In a 4-4-2, I would go with your defence, but would play Chedjou in the midfield and drop M'bia into the CD while allowing Assou-Ekotto (Bedimo) to anchor the LM, and Mbuta or Moukandjo as RM and Tchoyi as CAM with the duo upfront unchanged! I would not go 4 3 3 against Senegal, they are too strong infront and attacking is not our strength! I expect Senegal to go 4 3 3 in an effort to exploit their attacking superiority! We normally win by playing rugged defence first and then offensive opportunism!

    Piers, Matip is not in the squad. His club refused to release him due to the late call up! I think Botswana makes it, and if Cameroon doesn't qualify, I would not be surprised, then Senegal is very good and we have amateurs in the administration of football in Cameroon! Clemente is confused too!

  • Comment number 8.

    Good luck to all

    Shehata has Pitso Mosimane running scared with his mind games otherwise, suspension of league or not, Egypt are not the force they once were - because they are intransition. If Bafana's pre-match mind games were not so weak and if they can be bold tomorrow they should win - but all considered a draw is a likelier outcome.

    What would the Nations Cup be without Cameroon and Samuel Eto'o? had to contemplate - but that's about to happen I suspect - except they are one of the best losers. Senegal are simply to good at the moment.

    I'd like to see Morocco under Gerets. As far as young talents go the Lions of the Atlas are probably on par with Senegal and Ghana - and with Gerets one can only expect more. What a tournament 2015 will be!

  • Comment number 9.

    Ghana look like they have a great chance of winning the AFC ivory coast always look strong and egypt are a quality side but i think ghana will win it if all there players are fit, essien ayew boateng gyan owuseu-obeyie annan muntari and mensah should be too strong for the rest of the teams.

  • Comment number 10.

    Ghana are still the strongest squad in Africa. Young, strong, talented, motivated, superskilled, you name it. Cameroon and Egypt are aging teams that cannot face the likes of Senegal,Ghana, and even Bafana Bafana.
    One other thing, unless we give our local coaches the responsibilty, great teams like Ivory Coast's Africa's dream team will continue to under achieve. Look at Cameroon's 4-3-3 during the world cup, or Salamone Calo's substitution for an injured Drogba at the time when Portugal was looking for the ball and not getting it- how those approaches and substitutions made great teams like the Ivorians and Cameroonians underperformed. Even keeping Arona Dindani on the bench After scoring more than Drogba in qualifyers for 2006 world cup was some foreign coaches' fooly or scheme or sth.
    We can enjoy the game as we always do during the Cup of Nations, but it can be a venue for experimenting with local coaches.

  • Comment number 11.

    deng....

    Cameroon is probably not an aging squad. Only 5 players facing Senegal this weekend were in the squad during the Africa Cup in 2008 and two of them, Webo and Kameni just being recalled.

    You are very much correct with your input about foreign coaches!

    Cameroon with all its problems is the only team that has beaten african powerhouses on home soil (Egypt remains an exception)! They are not very fine, but win and quite often against odds!

    I remain wary of Senegal!

  • Comment number 12.

    Being a Tanzanian, It really hurts reading all these comments as we have been mentioned only when refering to other team weaknesses i.e Algeria fail to beat us. We deserve this as our team has done nothing when it comes to this continent football. Something needs to be done for organization of this country football starting with TFF who cant manage even bringing our 'professionals' for the match

  • Comment number 13.

    Unfortunately, my feeling is that Pitso is a weak coach, and that Bafana are beginning the slow slide back to pre-WC2010.

    The PSL may be the richest league on the continent, but the quality does not always reflect it. SAFA (mainly) and the PSL (to an extent) are notoriously poor administrators, which does not help.

    There are far too many "rich" cup competitions open to only a handful of teams. We are always told how "tired" the players are and how long the league season is. I fact there are regular long breaks in the league season, when only the few clubs involved in the latest cup competition see any action.

    Given the poor form Egypt have been showing, and their long period of inactivity, Bafana should bet them easily. A more likely result, however, is a boring 0-0 draw.

    Botswana have been a revelation, and fully deserve to become the first team to qualify for the finals.

    Cameroon can at best hope for a draw against Senegal, but I do not think their defence is steady or organised enough.

    In general the quality of African teams of late has been poor and inconsistent. We saw in the WC that the standard leaves a lot to be desired, and it appears to have gotten worse since then rather than better.

  • Comment number 14.

    If Egypt doesn’t qualify it bring a breath of fresh air in terms of competing for the Nations Cup. I think Ghana is a team which will get better as they are a young team. However, Senegal for me is favourites in 2012 because they have quality all over the field especially the strike force. I’m a proud Zambian and I have every belief that we will be crowned African champions this decade. We are a team which is young, talented and can only get better.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am actually looking forward to a Botswana win as I am hoping it will bring fresh excitement to a tournament that has become predictable nowadays. In recent tournaments, most teams have employed European coaches whose emphasis has naturally been on techniques and tactics rather than natural flair. Unsurprisingly, the results have been frankly very dour games as teams quickly learn to cancel out each other. The last tournament in Angola being the worst example of attritional play!

    While not necessarily against foreign coaches, any European/foreign coach who wants to succeeed with an African team must necessarily require enough time to first of all adapt himself to that nation’s psyche - failure to do so ultimately leading to disaster as Nigeria, cameroun,cote d’ivoire and to a lesser extent, south Africa found out to their chagrin in the last WORLD CUP. Part of that mentality in African football is that every other fan knows who should start the next game. Will Clemente be given that time from Cameroun and more importantly does he understand this mentality? In the case of Nigeria, two European coaches (Westerhof & Bonfrere Jo) who had the most successes were given long term contracts and their era began inauspiciously to say the least (Incidentally, Westerhof married a Nigerian lady). But Westerhof almost lost it earlier on when he wanted to exclude Okocha from the team for perceived indiscipline until the people ‘intervened’ and got him re-instated. Phew! We almost missed out on a football legend there!

    I shall be watching the game between Nigeria under Siasia against Ethiopia with keen interest. For once, I feel a sense of excitement returning because it represents a chance for the national side going back to playing with unfettered freedom rather than being weighed down by the convoluted tactics of the recent past.

  • Comment number 16.

    just to rectify cks,cameroon has beaten egypt as well in egypt.a 1-0 win in an african cup of nations final!also remember cameroon coming from 5-0 down in 1st half to draw 5-5 with portugal to qualify for next round and eliminate portugal

  • Comment number 17.

    With regard to foreign coaches, I am not xenophobic about them. They have surely contributed to bringing our beautiful game to the level that African teams are in today. But, with such talent, Arica players are even more than Brazilians in Europe. If Africa were to be a country, it would have been the home of beautiful and attractive football. We have the talent; we won all international competitions except the elusive world cup. Remember Pele's prediction that an African team would win it in the 1990's? Failure to do so is surely not lack of talent but that foreign coaches sometimes fail to read games especially during World Cup competitions. For example, how can a whole second half 10 men Germany beat Cameroon with all those exciting fresh talent it had during 2002 WC (was it 02?)- bad coaching is the answer. Why was talented Ghana not emotionally ready for taking penalty shots? Why did injured Drogba at all feature in such an important match with Portugal when the Ivoirians had an upper hand and passing the ball with such ease- while Jervinio, Dindane, and Calo were more than headache for any defense? In terms of performance at the international level, especially during tournaments: can Drogba even compare with Jervinio? much less an injured Drogba? Bad coaching and big-name match planning will lead our teams no where.
    Look what Hassan Shahata did with the Pharaohs- smashing big-name squads like kids for three consecutive Cup of Nations, playing wonderful and exciting to watch football, and taking Egypt to 9th in a Fifa ranking. Do you think Siasia or Bwalia cannot do it if given a 10 year uninterrupted contract with the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana or Ivory Coast? Foreign coaches will continue to fail us with all the talent that we have in the continent. We need to mix and sometimes use good coaches like Sisia when they are there. As we trust the players we have in the continent, it is high time we trusted coaches too.

  • Comment number 18.

    deng, that's spot-on!

    Why would the African coach take the team to finals, only to be replaced by 'a more qualified' foreigner? The subs taking Gervinho out, not playing Bonaventure Kalou (in the previous tournaments) showed lack of understanding of the play regardless of 'big names'. Being fan of Chelsea, I'd love to see Didier playing, but he was below par compared to Gervinho in World Cup.

  • Comment number 19.

    shame cameroun,our football has been on downturn since eto became captain

  • Comment number 20.

    that is so cool

 

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