Out of Africa: 20 Teams Still in the Hunt As World Cup Qualifiers
The field of African challengers for a trip to Brazil in the2014 World Cup finals is close to winnowing itself to ten teams as Round 2 has reached the halfway point in its fixtures.
Upon completion of Round 2, a draw will be held to pair the group winners, who will then play home-and-away series to determine the five qualifiers for the African contingent in Brazil. Those matches are scheduled for 11-15 October and 15-19 November.
Here are the group leaders who, if they can hold their positions, will advance to the third stage:
|Group A ...||Ethiopia||Group D ...||Zambia||Group H ...||Algeria|
|Group B ...||Tunisia||Group E ...||Congo||Group I ...||Cameroon|
|Group C ...||Ivory Coast||Group F ...||Nigeria||Group J ...||Senegal|
|Group G ...||Egypt|
Here is how each race is shaping up and which rivals are in hot pursuit of each group's pacesetter:
Group A ... South Africa still feels it is the team to beat and is only two points behind Ethiopia. They meet each other on the current group leader's turf on 14 Jun, which will no doubt determine who advances.
Group B ... Tunisia would have to miss a bus or something to fail, with a five-point cushion over Sierra Leone and Equitorial Guinea. Not going to happen.
Group C ... Still considered the strongest contingent on the continent, the Ivory Coast has some work to do to live up to its billing. Notably, the Elephants couldn't stay the course as favorites in the recent African Cup of Nations, so there may be a few lingering confidence issues here. Tanzania trails by only one point and hosts the Coast on 14 June, which is looking to be a most interesting day on the African football calendar.
Group D ... Ghana lost, 1-0, to first-place Zambia, dropping two devastating points in one of the tightest competitions in this round. The Black Stars are thus one point behind the Chipolopolo, who are still beaming after claiming the African Cup of Nations championship earlier this year. The drama may continue until the last day of matches, when these two clubs meet in Ghana on 6 September.
Group E ... The Congo is on cruise control, standing with nine points while the other three pretenders have three each.
Group F ... Two inexplicable draws have been the bane of Nigeria and its advancement to Round 3. The Super Eagles are tied at the top with Malawi -- leading only due to more goals scored -- and will most likely have to wait until they host their pesky pursuers on 6 September to settle matters once and for all. However, if an underdogs hangs around long enough, it tends to forget it's an underdog. This one bears attention.
Group G ... Egypt has a comfortable five-point cushion over Guinea with only the maximum of nine points on the table. The Pharoahs are coached by former USA manager Bill Bradley, who will no doubt spend the balance of this round tuning his side for Round 3.
Group H ... Algeria only leads Mali on goal difference, and Benin is only two points in arrears. Mali had a strong run in the African Cup of Nations, making it to the semi-final, and have shown good form of late. Benin is known as the Squirrels; that says it all. Look for this group to be decided when Mali hosts Algeria on 10 June.
Group I ... This remains a three-team battle only because Cameroon lost a 2-1 decision at Libya, but still holds a one-point lead over them. Another point back is the Democratic Repoublic of Congo, but that stat flatters to deceive. Cameroon hosts Libya on 6 September, when all will see if the Indominatable Lions can live up to their nickname.
Group J ... Senegal has the reputation here, but hasn't been able to break away from a mediocre group. It leads with five points, only one ahead of Liberia two in front of Angola. The latter club has drawn all three of its matches and rarely looks a threat to win. The survivor of this group will be eagerly anticipated by whomever draws them for Round 3, on the assumption of easy pickings.