African Nations Cup jigsaw begins to take shape

Angola, Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia were celebrating qualification for the 2008 African Nations Cup on Monday.

The Black Antelopes of Angola, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and the Atlas Lions of Morocco ensured their places at the biennial African football showcase by taking unassailable group leads.

And whatever the final-round qualifying results during September and October, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia will also be in Ghana next January for the 16-nation tournament.

The Super Eagles of Nigeria should beat Lesotho at home and qualify as Group Three winners, but even finishing second will not prevent them filling one of three slots reserved for the best runners-up.

Either the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia or Sudan will win Group Four after their Omdurman showdown while the other team are certain to be among the leading second-placed countries.

Sudan have the greatest cause for joy as they last appeared at the Nations Cup 31 years ago and thousands of supporters greeted the team when they returned from a 2-0 victory in Seychelles.

Côte d’Ivoire, runners-up to 2006 champions and hosts Egypt, are virtually certain of a place, too, as they can lose by up to five goals in Gabon and still top Group One.

Postponement of the weekend fixture between Burundi and Egypt because the tiny Central Africa state forgot to organise accommodation complicates Group Two, but the Pharaohs remain probable pool winners.

Uganda can join Nigeria from Group Three provided they win fixtures in Lesotho on Tuesday and at home to Niger, and success for the “Cranes” would end a 30-year Nations Cup absence.

The luck of the qualifying draw assisted 2004 champions Tunisia and 1970 winners Sudan as Indian Ocean island states Mauritius and Seychelles were out of their depth.

Equatorial Guinea are the likeliest runners-up to Cameroon in Group Five, but even if they win at home to the Indomitable Lions, a 10-point tally probably will not be sufficient to finish among the best runners-up.

Eritrea can rise to 11 points as runners-up to Group Six table-toppers Angola if they triumph in Swaziland although a minus-three goal difference leaves the East African minnows needing a handsome victory.

Senegal host Burkina Faso and if they match the result Tanzania achieve at home to Mozambique they will win Group Seven as the head-to-head record of the West Africa Teranga Lions is superior.

All four Group Eight teams could finish on eight points if The Gambia beat Algeria in Banjul and Cape Verde Islands beat Guinea in Conakry, but a more realistic scenario is victory for the resurgent Guineans and top spot.

Mali lead Togo on goal difference in Group Nine and if they draw in Lome, Benin can snatch first place by collecting maximum points away to Sierra Leone, who suffered a six-goal mauling from the Malian Eagles Sunday.

Group 10 is no less intriguing with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Namibia chasing top spot and the Congolese Leopards are marginal favourites as they have a one-point lead and home advantage over the Libyan Greens.

South Africa, climbing from the doldrums since 1994 Brazil World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira arrived this year, need a home draw against Zambia to seal Group 11 honours.

Morocco had it easy in Group 12, collecting 10 points of a possible 12 against Malawi and Zimbabwe, the only 2006 Nations Cup qualifiers out of contention for an invitation to Ghana.—Sapa-AFP

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