Ivory Coast, Egypt eye World Cup progress
Ivory Coast and Egypt are among seven nations who could qualify this weekend for the final round of 2014 World Cup eliminators in Africa.
Victories will secure the 'Elephants' and the 'Pharaohs' unassailable leads in four-team mini-leagues, and the 'Walyas Antelopes' of Ethiopia and the 'Carthage Eagles' of Tunisia are in a similar situation.
Amid countless permutations, even drawing might suffice for the Ivorians, Egyptians and Tunisians depending on the results of closest challengers, but sharing the points would not take the Ethiopians through.
A draw at home to shock 2013 Africa Cup of Nations runners-up Burkina Faso will certainly be enough for the 'Red Devils' of Congo Brazzaville during the penultimate series of second-round fixtures.
The 'Chipolopolo' (Copper Bullets) of Zambia and the 'Desert Foxes' of Algeria are other countries who could advance, but they must win and have a favourable result from the other group game.
Among the top seeds in the 10 groups, Burkina Faso are not the only team under pressure as a loss in Addis Ababa will spell the end for 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa.
Should Ghana suffer a stunning defeat away to lowly Lesotho, the 2010 quarter-finalists would also be out of the running for Brazil if Zambia beat struggling Sudan.
Congo, whose best known current footballer is giant centre-back Christopher Samba from relegated English Premier League club Queens Park Rangers, are in unfamiliar territory having come close to qualifying only once before.
The 'Devils' have scored just twice in four matches, although the Group E standings show five goals because they were awarded a 3-0 win after the Burkinabe were punished for fielding an ineligible player in a goalless draw.
But the defence of a Congo team coached by Frenchman Kamel Djabour has not been breached in 360 minutes of mini-league action and veteran goalkeeper and captain Barel Mouko acknowledges the changing role of his team-mates.
"We started as outsiders and have since become the team to beat. Our squad is solid mentally and physically and it is nice to be in control of our destiny," said the Congolese.
Jonathan Pitroipa, a France-based wide midfielder voted the best player at the Cup of Nations in South Africa this year, scored the winner in Niger last weekend while Congo forced a 0-0 draw in Gabon.
Egypt, seven-times African champions but only twice World Cup qualifiers, beat Zimbabwe 4-2 in Group G thanks to a Mohamed Salah hat-trick and visit Mozambique to face a team reeling from a six-goal hiding by Guinea.
Playing at the World Cup for the first time in 24 years has become an obsession for American coach Bob Bradley and his mix of ageing stars like midfielder Mohamed Abou Trika and young ones like Salah.
Group C leaders Ivory Coast face second-place Tanzania in Dar es Salaam and welcome back Arsenal offensive midfielder Gervinho, who missed a 3-0 victory in Gambia because of suspension.
Ethiopia, a country where Olympic gold medal-winning athletes have dominated domestic sporting headlines for decades, were the fourth seeds in Group A behind South Africa, Botswana and the Central African Republic.
However, there has been nothing fourth rate about their displays and regular goals from Getaneh Kebede and Salahdin Ahmed have produced three wins, a draw and a two-point advantage over Bafana Bafana (The Boys).
After twice pegging back Sierra Leone for a 2-2 draw in Freetown, Tunisia go to the part-island state of Equatorial Guinea, whose 11th place on the June FIFA Africa rankings was puzzling given one win in four qualifiers.
Algeria appear to have shaken off a disastrous 2013 Cup of Nations and won 3-1 in Benin with Islam Slimani bagging a brace to be the five-goal leading scorer in the qualifying competition.
Should the 'Desert Foxes' triumph in Rwanda and Mali fail to collect maximum Group H points at home against Benin, the North Africans will seal first place with a fixture to spare.
Zambia should defeat Sudan, whose fortunes have slumped dramatically since reaching the 2012 Africa Cup quarter-finals, but to qualify from Group D they need a massive favour from the Lesotho side they whipped 4-0 last weekend.
Nothing less than a Lesotho win over Ghana in Maseru will put Zambia beyond reach and with 'Black Stars' skipper and striker Asamoah Gyan back in form, it is hard to imagine any result other than a win for the visitors.
Libya (Group I) and Senegal (Group J) are the two table toppers who cannot secure final-round places this weekend even if they defeat Togo and Liberia respectively and other results suit them.
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