Defending champions Nigeria will lead several top teams today, including four-time winners Ghana and the Ivory Coast, in a final bid to qualify for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.
The Super Eagles got their tottering campaign back on track at the weekend in Pointe-Noire, beating hosts Congo to cancel out a 3-2 shock home loss in September.
Nigeria, second in Group A with seven points from five matches, will bid to beat group winners South Africa in the Akwa Ibom International Stadium in Uyo to book their place in next year’s continental showpiece.
“It was not an easy game against a very determined Congo side, but luck was on our side. We took a big step forward,” said coach Stephen Keshi, who will be without Reading midfielder Hope Akpan, who dislocated his shoulder in Congo. “Now we must do everything to get the three points and qualify for the Nations Cup.”
Winners in 1996, South Africa are unbeaten in five qualifying matches under coach Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, but head to the southern town of Uyo with a poor record of just one win in 10 matches against Nigeria.
Nigeria and South Africa played out a goalless draw in Cape Town in September.
“Going back to Nigeria will be war, it won’t be just an ordinary football match,” Mashaba said. “Nigeria never expected to draw with us and we should’ve beaten them, on the day luck was just not on our side.”
Third-placed Congo are hoping South Africa can do them a big favor by not losing in Nigeria when they play in Sudan today.
Congo, who last featured at the Nations Cup 14 years ago, could also qualify as third-best losers if they beat Sudan and Guinea fail to beat Uganda at home.
The Black Stars of Ghana stumbled to a 1-0 loss in Uganda on Saturday, but they are still top of Group E with eight points and will only need to draw with visiting Togo in Tamale to advance.
“We have to go all out in that game and I am sure we will qualify for the Nations Cup,” Everton forward Christian Atsu said.
Suspended Jordan Ayew will return, but older brother Andre Ayew suffered a thigh injury in Uganda and is now a major injury doubt.
Guinea blew open Group E after they trounced Togo 4-1 in Lome at the weekend and now have to beat Uganda by more than 2-0 in their final match at home to book their ticket to the finals.
Both Uganda and Guinea now have seven points, but Uganda are ahead on the head-to-head rule after they beat the Syli Stars 2-0 in Kampala in September.
It is a straight fight between the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) for the remaining automatic qualification from Group D after a second-half strike by Vincent Aboubakar against DR Congo in Yaounde gave the Indomitable Lions an unassailable 13 points.
Ivory Coast are on nine points, three points clear of DR Congo, and will now need at least a draw at home in Abidjan against Cameroon to guarantee their place.
The Elephants, now captained by Manchester City star Yaya Toure, fell 4-2 in Cameroon three months ago in a very entertaining clash.
DR Congo skipper Youssouf Mulumbu said they have not given up hope of qualifying and will hope results go their way today.
“We still believe in qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations. Our chances have been reduced, but I still keep faith,” the England-based midfielder said.
Mali, Malawi and Ethiopia will jostle for another ticket in Group B, which has already been won by in-form Algeria.
The Eagles of Mali are second with six points and welcome Algeria to Bamako, while Malawi, who also have six points but an inferior goal-difference, square up against bottom team Ethiopia, who are on three points.
Mali have only to beat Algeria, who boast a perfect record after five rounds of matches, to seal qualification.
Even bottom team Ethiopia have an outside chance if they beat Malawi by at least two clear goals and Mali lose at home to Algeria.
Malawi are also in contention should they beat Ethiopia by a big score after they defeated them 3-2 at home in September.
They will go up to nine points and have canceled out Mali on the head-to-head after they reversed a 2-0 loss in Bamako three months ago by beating the West Africans 2-0 in Malawi on Saturday.
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