AFCON qualifiers enter swim or sink stage

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By Bakang Mhaladi

Gaborone - The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers have reached a swim or sink phase, with most southern African sides facing campaign-defining back-to-back clashes in the next seven days.

The next round of qualifiers kicked-off on Wednesday with some countries on the verge of booking their place in Cameroon next year.

But for sides like Botswana's Zebras and the Negras Palancas of Angola, there is the real danger of seeing their campaign folding.

David Bright's Zebras travel to Ouagadougou for a tough assignment against the Burkina Faso on Saturday, before the two sides jet off to Botswana's second city, Francistown for the reverse fixture just three days later.

Botswana remain stuck at the bottom of Group I without a point from two matches, and their trip to Burkina Faso will make or break their campaign.

The Zebras' only qualification to the AFCON finals was achieved in 2012, but there has been successive heartaches since.

Angola, a fading giant, that has not enjoyed the same success since qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, face surprise leaders, Mauritania in back-to-back clashes.

Angola are third in Group I, with three points, tied with Burkina Faso, while pacesetters, Mauritania are top with six points. Mauritania have never qualified for the AFCON finals and are looking to make history.

Group K has a strong southern African presence, with three teams, Mozambique, Zambia and Namibia in the mix.

However, all three trail Guinea Bissau who have four points, the same as Mozambique's Mambas. Zambia's Chipolopolo, the 2012 champions, are finding it difficult to navigate their way to the top, and have one point, tied with the Brave Warriors of Namibia. Guinea Bissau face Zambia while the Brave Warriors travel to Maputo to face Mozambique.

In Group A, Senegal and Madagascar occupy the two qualifying spots, with four points each. Senegal were left fuming after being held to a 2-2 draw in the last round of qualifiers, accusing Botswana referee, Joshua Bondo of bias.

Equatorial Guinea is third with three points while Sudan are pointless after two matches.

Sudan play Senegal back-to-back on October 13 and 16 respectively, while Madagascar face Equatorial Guinea in a similar fixture arrangement.  

In Group B, Cameroon, the hosts, are in pole position, with four points while Malawi's Flames are third with three points. Comoros anchor the log with one point. In the crucial week's fixtures, Malawi face Cameroon while Comoros play Morocco. Cameroon qualifies automatically as the hosts, and if they finish top, it will open up another slot for one of the best runners -up.

In Group C, Mali who face Burundi on Friday, top the group with six points, while the boys from Bujumbura are second with three. Gabon has one point while South Sudan's hopes are over as they remain without a point.

Rihad Mahrez's Algeria clash with Benin in a top of the table tie in Group D, with both teams tied on four points.  

Gambia and Togo, who play each other, have one point.

South Africa and Libya are neck-to-neck in Group E with four points while Nigeria are struggling in third place with three points. Seychelles are yet to get any point in a tough group. Libya face Nigeria in what should be an exciting encounter, while Bafana Bafana are expected to collect all six points against Seychelles.

Group F presents the most intriguing scenario as all four teams are tied on three points. Former champions, Ghana are ahead due to a superior goal difference, with Kenya second, followed by Sierra Leone, while Ethiopia are fourth. The double headers are expected to start separating boys from men, with Ghana up against Sierra Leone and Ethiopia facing Kenya.

Zimbabwe's Warriors sit at the top of Group G, tied on four points with DR Congo as the two prepare for their dose of back-to-back clashes, which are likely to decide who finishes top of the group.

Congo (Brazaville) are third with three points ahead of their clash against fourth placed Liberia (one point).

Guinea have one foot in Cameroon, as they have maximum points from two games, while Ivory Coast are second, tied with the Central Africa Republic (CAR) on three points. Rwanda are still without points as they face a baptism of fire against the log leaders, while Ivory Coast play CAR.

Tunisia and Egypt are favourites to qualify from Group J, ahead of Swaziland and Niger. The table topping Tunisians have six points, while The Pharaohs have three. The bottom two have one point each.

Uganda are in charge of Group L, which has a southern African side, Lesotho. The Cranes have four points, two ahead of Likuena, while Tanzania are third (two points), and Cape Verde are at the bottom with just a point.

Meanwhile, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has allayed fears that crisis-torn Cameroon would be stripped of the rights to host the tournament, paving the way for the resumption of tricky encounters this coming weekend.

CAF President, Ahmad Ahmad, debunked rumours CAF would withdraw the hosting rights from the Central African country beset by tensions pitting English and French-speaking regions.

“CAF has never envisaged such a scenario,” he said.

Cameroon are also the defending champions.

Presidential elections were ongoing at the time of publication. - Additional reporting by CAJ News

AFCON FIXTURES

FRIDAY

 

Cameroon vs Malawi, Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium        16h30

Angola vs Mauritania, Estadio 11 de Novembro        17h00

Gabon vs South Sudan, Stade de l'Amitie        17h00

Nigeria vs Libya, Ahmadu Bello Stadium        18h30

Guinea vs Rwanda, Stade 28 Septembre        18h30

Cote d'Ivoire vs Central African Republic, Stade Bouake    19h00

Togo vs Gambia, Stade Municipal Lome          20h00

Mali vs Burundi, Stade 26 Mars        21h00

Algeria vs Benin, Stade Mustapha Tchaker           21h45

Cape Verde Vs Tanzania, To be announced (TBA)        23h00

 

SATURDAY

 

Egypt vs Swaziland, TBA        14h00

Uganda vs Lesotho, Nelson Mandela National Stadium       15h00

South Africa vs Seychelles, FNB Stadium        15h00

DRC vs Zimbabwe, Stade des Martyrs                19h30

Burkina Faso vs Botswana, Stade du 4-Aout         20h00

Morocco vs Comoros, Stade Mohamed V        20h00

Senegal vs Sudan, Stade Leopold Senghor        21h00

Equatorial Guinea vs Madagascar, TBA        23h00

 

SUNDAY

 

Mozambique vs Namibia, TBA        00h00

Tunisia vs Niger, TBA        14h15

Guinea-Bissau vs Zambia, Estadio 24 de Setembro        18h00

Kenya vs Ethiopia, Nyayo National Stadium         18h00 

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