African hopefuls braced for last push
CAF Africa Cup of Nations
- Ten places remain to qualify for 2019 AFCON
- Final round of qualifiers take place from 22-24 March
- FIFA.com breaks down the key games
With 14 teams having already qualified for the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, ten places remain to be claimed at the big event in Egypt, which stepped in to replace Cameroon as the host nation. Having once had their finals berth guaranteed, the Indomitable Lions find themselves with much to do in the last round of qualifying matches, which take place on 22-24 March.
FIFA.com looks ahead to the weekend’s action, with some lesser lights nursing high hopes of a surprise appearance at African football’s showpiece tournament and some big names sweating on their places.
Madagascar, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Nigeria, Uganda, Guinea, Algeria, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya
The key games
- Libya-South Africa
- Congo DR-Liberia
- Lesotho-Cape Verde Islands
Senegal and Madagascar have already claimed their tickets to Egypt and the only issue that remains to be settled is who tops the group. Three points clear and with a goal difference of +8 to Madagascar’s +2, the Lions of Teranga are in pole position. Already out of the running, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea meet in a battle to avoid finishing last.
Their hopes gone, Malawi take on a Morocco side that has made sure of its finals place and is attaching more importance to the upcoming friendly against Argentina in a few days’ time. Coach Herve Renard is resting Nordin Amrabat, Sofiane Boufal, Youssef En-Nesyri, Medhi Benatia, Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss and Manuel Da Costa for the trip to Malawi, while Amine Harit and Hakim Ziyech are out with injury. For their part, Cameroon need a point from their home game with Comoros. Les Coelacantes came close to beating Clarence Seedorf’s men in the first meeting between the sides in Moroni, where the Indomitable Lions needed a late Stephane Bahoken strike to secure a point. Bahoken will miss the return through injury.
While Mali, who have qualified, and South Sudan, who have been eliminated, have little to play for in their encounter, Burundi and Gabon will not be lacking in motivation when they meet in Bujumbura. Just 90 minutes away from a maiden Africa Cup of Nations appearance, the Swallows need only a point, while the Gabonese, who welcome back star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, have no option but to win.
Algeria are already through and will play host to a Gambia side hoping for something of a miracle, one that involves them winning by three goals in Blida along with Benin and Togo playing out a draw. Benin are best placed to join the Algerians in Egypt, thanks to their two-point advantage over the Sparrowhawks, who need to win when the two sides meet in Cotonou.
While there is nothing riding on the encounter between the already-qualified Nigeria and the already-eliminated Seychelles, South Africa and Libya have everything to play for in their face-off. Bafana Bafana have the advantage, requiring only a draw to progress.
Ghana host group-leaders Kenya in a match that will decide who tops the section. The Kenyans hold a one-point lead going into the game. Both sides are already through, with Ethiopia and Sierra Leone both hoping to avoid the wooden spoon in the weekend’s other game in the group.
The only group in which all four sides can still qualify. Zimbabwe, who lead the way with eight points, entertain Congo, bottom on five. The Red Devils must win in Harare and hope neighbours Congo DR fail to do likewise at home to Liberia.
|Congo DR||6||+ 1|
Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire have secured their finals places and will remain in that order if the Sily National win in Central African Republic. Should they fail to do so, the Elephants will leapfrog them if they defeat Rwanda at home.
Having celebrated qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations for the very first time, Mauritania can now gauge their progress with a trip to Burkina Faso, who must win if they are to have any chance of joining them in Egypt. The Stallions’ hopes will be dashed, however, if Angola pick up maximum points in Botswana, who are already out.
Tunisia and Egypt will both be gracing the finals, the Egyptians as tournament hosts. The two will fight it out for first place in the group, with the Eagles of Carthage hosting Swaziland and the Pharaohs travelling to Niger.
The big surprise here is that 2012 African champions Zambia are the only team out of contention. The Zambians still have a part to play in deciding who qualifies, however. They host Namibia, who will make sure of a place in Egypt if they win. Any other result will leave them waiting on the result of Guinea-Bissau’s home meeting with Mozambique.
Group winners Uganda have a pressure-free trip to Tanzania, where the hosts must prevail and hope Lesotho fail to do the same at home to Cape Verde Islands, who are still in with a chance despite lying bottom.