HOLDERS Egypt head the list of heavyweight contenders seeking to confirm their qualification for next year’s African Nations Cup finals this weekend.
A win in Burundi on Sunday would ensure Egypt finish top of their group
and join the seven teams already through to the 16-team finals being hosted by Ghana in January.
Bolstered by the return of Middlesbrough striker Mido and Hamburg forward Mohamed Zidan, Egypt will seek their first away win of the campaign in their penultimate Group Two match.
They head a batch of leading nations who are on the verge of qualifying as they play their final qualifiers at the weekend.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, and South Africa need only avoid defeat to make sure of their progress.
The Congolese have a home match in Group 10 against Libya in Kinshasa on Sunday while South Africa play Zambia in Cape Town on Sunday, buoyed by the return of Blackburn Rovers striker Benni McCarthy after a lengthy self-imposed exile.
Zambia must win the Group 11 tie by two goals to usurp South Africa and snatch away a berth at the finals.
Guinea and Senegal also have their destiny in their own hands, needing home wins at the weekend to qualify.
Guinea play the Cape Verde Islands in Conakry on Sunday while Senegal have a tougher tie against Burkina Faso in their Group Seven match in Dakar 24 hours earlier.
Guinea share top place in Group Eight with Algeria, who have an inferior head-to-head record and an away match in the Gambia on Sunday to complete their programme.
Captain Pascal Feindouno is likely to lead Guinea’s challenge despite missing league action with St Etienne at the weekend because of a knee injury.
Senegal also share the leadership of their group, but their favourable head-to head record with Tanzania means a win against Burkina Faso will ensure they finish top.
“It’s a decisive game in which a victory will do it for us. We don’t have any other option but to win,” Senegal coach Henryk Kasperczak told reporters this week.
Tanzania, who host Mozambique in Dar-es-Salaam, are one of several sides also chasing the two remaining berths for the best second-placed finishers.
Also in contention are Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea, who could complete a fairytale campaign by qualifying if they win against Swaziland in Manzini on Sunday.
Holders Ghana, Angola, Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia are already through to the finals.
Meanwhile the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has announced new dates for African Nations Cup qualifiers in which Benin, Mali and Togo are bidding to reach next year’s finals.
The CAF had postponed the decisive games in Group Nine to Oct. 14 after failing to receive guarantees on security for the match between hosts Sierra Leone and Benin in Freetown, which had originally been scheduled for this weekend, because of elections in the west African country.
It has now moved the match, plus the other decisive encounter in the group between joint leaders Togo and Mali in Lome, to Oct. 12 after discovering that parliamentary elections in Togo are scheduled for Oct. 14.
Benin are a point behind Togo and Mali in the standings while Sierra Leone have no chance of qualifying with just one point from their five qualifiers to date. — Reuters.