Africa World Cup Qualifying Preview

Togo – Cameroon The Togolese have been put in the awkward position of having to “host” their main Group A rival, Cameroon, on a neutral ground in Ghana due to a suspension stemming from regrettable incidents that followed their 2008 African Cup of Nations qualifier versus Mali at their home stadium in Lome. The Malians emerged 2-0 victors in a match that Togo needed to win in order to secure passage to the continental tournament. Their loss was then compounded by reprehensible behaviour from some Togo supporters who attacked the visitors and resulted in a four-match home ban on the “Sparrowhawks.” Togo face the prospect of having to play two more home games in neighboring Ghana which is close but far from an ideal situation. To make matters worse, the country’s Football Federation has a history of making things difficult for players and coaches of the West African country. While qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany was the country’s greatest achievement to date, few will forget the row over player bonuses that erupted during the tournament and almost led to a general team walkout and a resignation by then coach Otto Pfister. The team recently went through months of uncertainty after trainer Henri Stambouli quit in September of 2008 over a disagreement with the notorious Federation and were without a coach until only three weeks ago when they appointed Belgian Jean Thissen as a replacement. While Thissen has had next to no time to properly prepare his squad for the crucial tie versus the Cameroonians, he does take over a well-seasoned group of players who have gained a great deal of experience from their 2006 World Cup experience as well as recent qualifiers. The fact that their 1-0 win over a respectable Zambian side was earned in Accra is a good omen for the Togolese yet their 2-1 away loss to lowly Swaziland in the same round is nothing less than bizarre. Their most recent away result, a 1-1 tie to the much improved “Stallions” of Burkina Faso is a good sign but Togo will have no room for error in a group composed of heavyweights Cameroon, resurgent Morocco, and dangerous Gabon. PREDICTION Togo may be spurred on by a fresh face in Jean Thissen but his arrival has probably come too late to make a significant difference against Africa’s number one ranked side. This coupled with a ban preventing them from playing on home soil as well as the likely loss of Emmanuel Adebayor does not bode well for them. They will fight valiantly as they always do but a superior Cameroon side should be able to get past them with the right amount of focus and application. Togo 0 – 2 Cameroon Morocco – Gabon Morocco narrowly missed out on Germany 2006 when they were edged by Tunisia in a tight group, despite going undefeated in all their group matches. They came to Tunis needing nothing but a victory but could only manage a 2-2 draw against Roger Lemerre’s men despite twice taking the lead. Ironically, the Frenchman is now the man charged with guiding his former opponents to their first World Cup appearance in 12 years. The team is jam-packed with talent and the only blemish on their recent record is a surprising 3-1 loss to Rwanda which they suffered in the previous round of qualifying. For all their technical skills, the Moroccans have a reputation of being great in friendlies but either inconsistent or unlucky in World Cup qualifiers and tournament play. Their disappointing exit from the African Nations Cup in Ghana 2008 lends credence to this argument. Despite starting with a 5-1 thrashing of Namibia that had onlookers pegging them as possible title contenders, the team could not get past Guinea and Blackstars in their next two outings. It is precisely this kind of inconsistency that Roger Lemerre has been called upon to remedy. So far the trainer has hit all the right notes after leaving Tunisia. A strong disciplinarian, he has taken an offensively talented side and given them a sense of purpose and tactical discipline while ensuring that the players feel the weight of responsibility they bear without buckling underneath it. Judging by their last outing, a highly entertaining and impressive match-up versus the Czech Republic on February 11, when they were repeatedly denied by the post and crossbar, the team is in good health and ready to take on the challenge. PREDICTION Even though Gabon have shown that they can more than hold their own versus the continent's more established sides, most of their most famous results occur at home. Unfortunately for the West Africans they are facing a highly motivated Morocco side that is full of trusty technicians who will feed off the energy of the Mohamed V stadium. It’s hard to see the Atlas Lions dropping points at home on their first outing, especially if you take into consideration their five-game unbeaten streak in Casablanca and the excellent form of the majority of their players. Morocco 3-1 Gabon Burkina Faso – Guinea Burkina Faso have been one of the most pleasant surprises in the CAF 2010 World Cup qualifiers to date. The team came out of nowhere to stun Tunisia in Rades during the previous phase of qualification, when they managed to turn a 1-0 loss into a 2-1 win in a matter of minutes. Portuguese coach Paul Duarte had a big hand in the reversal of the scoreline as his decision to substitute in Yssouf Kone proved to be a masterstroke - it was the Cluj striker who levelled and then put his team in the lead. The unexpected result served as a launching pad for the west Africans, who were undefeated for the rest of the initial group stage. Not only did they win, but they did it in style, scoring 14 goals and only conceding five in a group that also composed of Seychelles and Burundi. Duarte’s men finished first in the group; three points ahead of their north African adversaries. Although Burkina Faso have never qualified for the World Cup and can count their 1998 fourth placed finish at the African Nations Cup as their best tournament to date, the current crop of players, as well as those in the pipeline, indicates that the country has a bright future. Burkina Faso is currently celebrating qualification to the 2009 Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria after their youngsters made it to the semi-finals of the U-17 African Cup of Nations in Algeria earlier this week. They will hope that the senior side can equal this achievement. PREDICTION Burkina Faso no longer has the element of surprise but massive home support and their productive offence will prove too much to handle for the defensively frail Guineans. Burkina Faso 2-1 Guinea


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