7 African teams will keep World Cup hopes aliveBy GERALD IMRAY , Associated Press
Sep. 5, 2013 2:48 PM ET
Seven teams will keep alive their hopes of playing at the World Cup in African qualifying's final round of group games, with continental champion Nigeria and Ghana not yet assured of progression.
Also facing nervous last-round matchups are Cameroon, Senegal and Tunisia, while minnows Ethiopia and Republic of Congo are in position to qualify for the final playoffs at the expense of 2010 World Cup host South Africa and African Cup runner-up Burkina Faso respectively.
Top-ranked African team Ivory Coast, Egypt and Algeria have already reached the 10-team playoffs in October and November that will complete the two-year process to decide which five teams from Africa go to Brazil next year.
Malawi, Zambia, Libya, Uganda and Cape Verde Islands hope to overtake some of the other top teams late on.
Ghana and Zambia open the final round of group games on Friday in Group D, the first of a host of winner-take-all games to end the main qualifying stage. Also, Tunisia hosts Cape Verde for the right to qualify from Group B, the Nigerians need a point at home against Malawi in Group F and four-time African champion Cameroon must hold off a challenge from Libya when they meet to decide Group I. Senegal plays closest challenger Uganda in Group J's climax in neutral Marrakech with just a point between them.
Ghana was set to benefit from the recalls of Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng after their long international absences, but the recent death of Essien's father puts the Real Madrid midfielder in doubt for his return to national team duties. It also would be Ghana's last act in qualifying if it loses.
The buildup to Nigeria's game with Malawi was overshadowed by a row between African Cup of Nations-winning coach Stephen Keshi and Malawi rival Tom Saintfiet, and the teams will meet in the southern Nigerian city of Calabar on Saturday while FIFA considers a complaint of racism against Keshi by Saintfiet for comments describing the Belgian as a "white dude" who should go back to Belgium.
Cameroon was boosted when FIFA awarded it a victory over Togo because the Togolese fielded an ineligible player in an earlier qualifier, and the Cameroonians now only need a draw to go through and end Libya's brave challenge. Likewise, Senegal needs to hold Uganda to at least a draw to top Group J, although the "home" game for the Senegalese will be in Marrakech, Morocco because of a ban on Dakar's Leopold Senghor Stadium for a riot there last year.
Tunisia's progression was put on hold and Cape Verde's hopes were revived by another ineligible player case in Group B, where Equatorial Guinea forfeited a game against Cape Verde. The two contenders meet in Rades.
In Group A, Ethiopia will stay on course for a first ever World Cup appearance if it beats Central African Republic in neutral Republic of Congo. That would eliminate 2010 host South Africa.
Ethiopia's place in the playoffs and its best World Cup qualifying result ever was also held up when it forfeited a game against Botswana for playing Minyahile Beyene when he was suspended. But the Ethiopians still will make the playoffs and be one tie away from their first appearance at football's showpiece if they beat Central African Republic in Brazzaville on Saturday.
Republic of Congo travels to Niger to end Group E and only needs to match Burkina Faso's result against Gabon to go through.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Algeria all have the luxury of using their final group games as preparation for the crucial two-leg playoffs starting next month. Group C winner Ivory Coast hosts Morocco on Saturday and Egypt and Algeria play on Tuesday. The Egyptians are at home to Guinea and the Algerians host Mali.
Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP