CAF Final Round Matchday 1 Preview – World Cup Qualifying

This is what it all boils down to in the CAF region: 10 teams, 10 games, 5 entrants to Brazil 2014.

The Confederation of African Football started qualifying almost 2 years ago in November 2011.  It was essentially a ‘minnow a minnow’ if you will, pitting the lowest ranked teams against one another to eliminate 11 of CAF’s lesser teams.  Those 11 would progress to the second round which broke up the remaining 40 teams into 10 groups of 4.  Obviously, the 10 group winners are who remain today.

CAF qualifying is never without controversy.  This cycle saw 7 matches overturned as a result of fielding ineligible players.  There were also games that were appealed but were ultimately upheld according to FIFA.  The match that grabbed the most headlines was Cape Verde Islands having to forfeit their 2-0 win at Tunisia in September, allowing the Carthage Eagles to back into the third and final round of qualifying.

Let’s take a look at the 5 matchups slated for October and see who will have the inside track to Brazil heading into the return fixture.  If you’re looking to wager, these are games in which to do it.  We Global has been burned far too many times on teams who do not have to win in order to achieve their desired result of advancement.

Cote d’Ivoire v Senegal – October 12 – Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

We Global supporting Les Elephants at Soccer City vs Brazil during South Africa 2010.
We Global supporting Les Elephants at Soccer City vs Brazil during South Africa 2010.

Cote d’Ivoire have been the class of Africa over the last 10 years, but have failed to achieve any sort of international success in major competitions.  They’ve entered AFCON as heavy favorites on more than one occasion only to fall short of the gold.  They’ve also failed to escape the group stage in the last two editions of the World Cup.  It’s now or never for their golden generation.  They’ve had a recent dip in form by failing to win their last two matches.  Luckily for them, they return home where they have 4 wins and 2 draws in their last 6.  One of those wins happens to be a 4-2 result over Senegal!

Senegal also had a tremendous campaign, running through Group J unbeaten.  This will be a big test for the Indomitable Lions.  They could not have been thrilled to see Cote d’Ivoire’s name drawn with theirs last month in Cairo.  Senegal have had a fairly quiet 2013, having only played 1 match outside of their world cup qualifiers.  They did not qualify for AFCON 2013, which cost them at least 3 games.  They’ll be up against it on Saturday.  If they are able to get a draw or keep the defeat to only 1 goal, they’ll surely enter the second leg with a ton of confidence.

Prediction: Cote d’Ivoire by 3

 

Burkina Faso v Algeria – October 12 – Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

Algerian FA says there will be 1,000 supports travelling to Ouagadougou for the match.
Algerian FA says there will be 1,000 supporters travelling to Ouagadougou for the match.

This is one of two matchups that pit two AFCON 2013 participants against each other. Algeria and Burkina Faso had vastly different experiences in South Africa however.  Algeria severely disappointed by not making it past the group stage.  Defeats to Tunisia and Togo eliminated them before their last match against Cote d’Ivoire.  Burkina Faso on the other hand made a surprise run to the final, only to fall 1-0 to Nigeria.  The Stallions will be keen to capture some of that glory and make their first appearance in the World Cup finals.

Algeria pose a very tough test for every opponent they take the field against.  They appear to have righted the ship by posting a nice 8 game unbeaten streak since AFCON 2013.  Included in that streak is a 2-0 win over Burkina Faso.

Only 27 places separate these two in our standings, so expect this to be a hard fought series that will come down to the wire.

Prediction: Draw

 

Ethiopia v Nigeria – October 13 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ethiopia sailed to uncharted waters this year, scoring their first ever AFCON finals goal.
Ethiopia sailed to uncharted waters this year, scoring their first ever AFCON finals goal.

This is the other matchup of two AFCON 2013 participants.  In fact, these two were drawn in the same group!  Nigeria posted a convincing 2-0 win in that match in front of a throng of Ethiopian support in Rustenburg.  Lack of familiarity will not be an issue in this match.

Ethiopia have never appeared in a World Cup final, while Nigeria have qualified for 4 of the last 5.  It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Ethiopians.  They are the only home team we are predicting to lose in matchday 1.  Crazier things have happened, but Stephen Keshi’s men will be too much to take down over a home and home series.  Nigeria’s “worst” loss over the past two years was a 3-2 loss to Egypt in Dubai.  Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s “best” win over the same period was a 2-1 win over Tanzania at home.

Ethiopia are progressing, but they’re not quite ready for the world’s biggest stage.

Prediction: Nigeria by 1

 

Tunisia v Cameroon – October 13 – Rades, Tunisia

Tunisia must be counting their lucky stars; they’ll get to play one more match in the Olympic Stadium.
Tunisia must be counting their lucky stars; they’ll get to play one more match in the Olympic Stadium.

Tunisia are far and away the luckiest team left in the CAF region.  As we mentioned above, and you’re more than well aware of by now, Cape Verde were removed from the final round of qualifying after they were found guilty of using an ineligible players.  It’s one thing to be lucky, but it’s another to be undeserving.  The Carthage Eagles most certainly are not undeserving.  Rules are rules and they must be adhered to, even if you can’t stand the administration that enforces them!

Regardless of all of that, there is still a game to be played.  Tunisia are historically tough at home.  Despite what the FIFA records show, they did lose the Cape Verde game last month.  Their only other home loss in the last 2 years was to Switzerland in November 2012.  Cameroon’s away form is borderline laughable.  They only have 2 wins in their last 12 away matches and have not scored in their last 7.  More bad news appears imminent.

Prediction: Tunisia by 1

 

Ghana v Egypt – October 15 – Kumasi, Ghana

The Black Stars once again stand between Bob Bradley and World Cup glory.
The Black Stars once again stand between Bob Bradley and World Cup glory.

The third round draw had to have left Bob Bradley shaking his head in disbelief.  For the third cycle in a row, his team will be eliminated from the World Cup if they are not able to defeat Ghana.  The Black Stars have been his kryptonite since 2006.  This is a great opportunity to exorcize those demons.  It will certainly make the USA feel a little at ease heading to Brazil knowing Ghana won’t be there should Egypt prevail.

Ghana have been almost invincible at home.  In their last 6 home matches, they are unbeaten and untied, having outscored opponents 20-2.  However, they haven’t played anyone close to Egypt’s stature in those games.  The Pharaohs will prove to be the toughest test they’ve faced at home in quite some time.

Egypt demolished their qualifying group, and threatened for a place in Pot 1 for the final round draw.  Egypt was also unbeaten and untied in their group.  They posted road wins at Guinea (WGF 93), Zimbabwe (WGF 123), and Mozambique (WGF 139).  Ghana will surely be a step up in competition for them as we currently have them ranked 37.  In fact, Guinea was the most difficult opponent they’ve faced away in the past 2 years.  If the Pharaohs are to have a chance, they must be composed defensively and need to choose when to go forward very wisely.  A quick goal to Ghana could see the wheels come off very quickly.

Prediction: Ghana by 1

 

Thanks for reading and following the qualifiers with us as we all gear up towards the field of 32 for Brazil!

CAF Correspondent,
Matt