2014 World Cup – Nigeria, 15 Others Seek Play Off Tickets
Nigeria and South Africa are among 16 nations hunting seven play-off places this weekend when the African World Cup qualifying group reach a climax. Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Congo-Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Gabon, Libya, Malawi, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia complete the line-up of hopefuls.
The top two teams in the table square off in five groups, and in two others there are three sides battling to join already-qualified Algeria, Egypt and Ivory Coast. A seeded September 16 draw in Cairo will create five home-and-away ties with the five winners representing the continent at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Nigeria have their destiny in their own hands with a home draw against Malawi in Calabar enough to move them within 180 minutes of a fifth World Cup appearance. The Super Eagles boast a powerful squad with midfielder John Obi Mikel of Chelsea and striker Emmanuel Emenike of Fenerbahce available after missing a friendly win in South Africa. Coach Stephen Keshi has branded Malawi “dangerous opponents” despite the central African ‘Flames’ losing to the Angolan Olympic squad and Botswana in warm-ups.
“It is great to have some stars for the first time since winning the Africa Cup last February and we must hit the ground running,” stressed 1994 World Cup captain Keshi. Both teams are unbeaten in Group F with Nigeria winning two games and drawing three and Malawi winning one and drawing four in a pool including Namibia and Kenya.
South Africa, successful hosts of the last World Cup, are in danger of missing Brazil as they trail shock Group A pacesetters Ethiopia by two points. Ethiopia, seeded fourth behind Bafana Bafana, Botswana and Central African Republic, qualified for the play-offs last June only to have three points docked for using an ineligible player. But a team composed almost entirely of home-based stars can seal first place with a win over C.A.R., a fixture held in neutral Congo-Brazzaville because Bangui has post-coup security concerns.
“Playing in Bangui would concern us,” admitted Ethiopia striker Getaneh Kebede, “but a lot of Ethiopians will travel to Brazzaville, creating a ‘home atmosphere.”
Win Group E — any other result opens the door for Burkina Faso or Gabon, who clash in Ouagadougou, to overtake them.
Dead rubbers include Ivory Coast against Morocco in Abidjan with Didier Drogba set for his first competitive international outing since February, Algeria versus Mali in Blida and Egypt’s clash with Guinea in Alexandria.