Gentle World Cup start for Ghana

07 September 2011 07:30

Ghana will launch their bid to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by hosting minnows Lesotho or Burundi, according to fixtures released by tournament organisers FIFA.

The 'Black Stars' were the best African performers at the 2010 tournament in South Africa -- the first hosted by the continent -- reaching the quarter-finals before losing a penalty shoot-out against Uruguay.

It was the most heart-breaking of three African last-eight exits since 1990 with Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan firing a spot kick on to the bar and over with the last kick of extra time.

Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and South Africa won only two group matches between them and made first-round exits from a World Cup in which Africa was expected to make a bigger impact.

All the major football nations bar Morocco will enjoy home advantage on the first qualifying matchday next June with Ivory Coast meeting Chad or Tanzania and South Africa playing Somalia or Ethiopia.

Nigeria face Djibouti or Namibia, Senegal tackle Mauritius or Liberia, Tunisia confront Equatorial Guinea or Madagascar, Burkina Faso are up against Sao Tome e Principe or Congo and Cameroon play Swaziland or Democratic Republic of Congo.

Struggling giants Egypt meet the Comoros Islands or Mozambique and Algeria square off against Eritrea or Rwanda during a 20-fixture schedule that will signal the real start of the struggle for five World Cup places.

Fast-improving Morocco are among the second seeds as they did not have a top-10 ranking when the draw was made in Rio de Janeiro two months ago and travel to Gambia on the initial matchday.

Before the six-matchday second round, there will be 10 home-and-away ties to cut the field from a record 52 countries to 40, who have been split into 10 groups with each winner advancing to a five-tie, two-leg final qualifying phase.

Among the 20 lowest ranked nations facing two matches within five days during November are 1974 qualifiers Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and 2006 participants Togo.

Both have tricky tasks with DR Congo facing Swaziland, who restricted Ghana to a 2-0 home win in a 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier last Friday, while Togo must overcome combative fellow West Africans Guinea Bissau.

There are several changes to the African format with World Cup matches no longer counting toward qualification for the Cup of Nations as they did for the 2006 and 2010 tournaments to avoid fixture congestion.

Teams used to play at least 12 matches to reach a World Cup and this has been reduced to eight, assuming the five who make it to South America had a first-round bye.

The traditional Friday-to-Sunday match 'window' has been widened to five days with Mondays and Tuesdays included and the two-leg final round sees Africa reverting to a system last used in the 1990 qualifying competition.

Source: AFP