/ 30 May 2008

Africa kicks off month of World Cup qualifiers

Africa’s top footballers head wearily back from a demanding club season in Europe for an intensive month of World Cup qualifiers starting this weekend.

Players like Michael Essien, Samuel Eto’o, Frederic Kanoute, Nwankwo Kanu and Emmanuel Adebayor go from the cauldron of top club competition into an equally demanding round of qualifiers for the 2010 finals in South Africa over the next four weekends.

The season in Europe has taken a toll already with the likes of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Benni McCarthy and Obafemi Martins missing out on the first exchanges this Saturday and Sunday.

Drogba is injured and Toure out after a back operation for the Côte d’Ivoire’s opening game against Mozambique in Abidjan on Sunday.

Striker McCarthy has withdrawn from South Africa’s team for unexplained personal reasons ahead of their match against Nigeria in Abuja.

The home side are without the injured Martins up front, giving an opportunity to 20-year-old Victor Anichebe for a competitive debut.

A total of 44 teams begin the chase for five World Cup places in the preliminaries which are also being used to determine the 16 finalists for the 2010 African Nations Cup tournament in Angola.

The match between Sudan and Chad has been postponed because of political tension between the two neighbours while Swaziland get a bye this weekend after the withdrawal of Eritrea.

The Ivorians are among the five African teams that played at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany who all start with a home tie in their respective groups.

Ghana take on Libya in Kumasi on Sunday, when Angola have a home tie against Benin in Luanda. Tunisia host Burkina Faso at Rades on Sunday but Togo are forced to play in neutral Ghana after a ban on their next four home matches following crowd violence last year. They meet Zambia in Accra on Saturday.

The first group phase will conclude in October after which the winners of the 12 groups advance to the next stage along with the eight best second-placed teams.

The second phase starts in November with the 20 remaining sides divided into five groups of four. The group winners will qualify for the 2010 World Cup. – Reuters 2008