/ 29 August 2005

Big soccer teams disappoint

Africa’s traditional powerhouses are on the verge of elimination from next year’s World Cup soccer championships and some are even in danger of missing out on the African Nations Cup set for the end of January. There are two rounds left in the qualifiers and none of the continent’s 2002 World Cup contestants — Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and South Africa — top their group, a necessity to book a berth for Germany.

In Group One, less-fancied Togo leads the pack with 17 points, with Zambia (16) and Senegal a further point adrift. Only three teams will advance to the African showpiece in Egypt. In the pick of the group clashes next week, Senegal travel to Zambia whom they narrowly defeated 1-0 in the first round.

In the battle of arguably two of the world’s top marksmen, Côte d’Ivoire (19) will hope Didier Drogba steals the headlines when they clash with Samuel Eto and Cameroon (17) in Group Three. The Indomitable Lions beat the Ivoreans 3-2 at home when the teams last met.

It’s another West African team that tops the log in Group Two by virtue of a superior goal difference. Ghana (15) has beaten two-time world cup qualifier South Africa (15) both at home and away. Ghana hosts Uganda next Sunday while Bafana Bafana makes the journey to Ouagadougou where Burkina Faso lie in wait.

Morocco trails reigning African champions Tunisia (17) by a single point in Group Five. The pacesetters face a tricky away game in Kenya, while Morocco should have little trouble overcoming Southern African minnows Botswana.

Africa’s most populous country is Nigeria. This soccer-mad nation is not content with level pegging with Angola in Group Four. Algeria will not relish facing the ball-juggling skills of Jay Jay Okocha and the pace of Obafemi Martins despite home ground advantage next week. That’s, of course, if they pitch up for the encounter. Angola welcomes Gabon, while third-placed Zimbabwe will hope either of the two teams ahead of them slip up. The Confederation of Southern African Football Association champions could then, at the very least, sneak one of the Africa spots.