Africans set off on road to Brazil 2014 W.Cup
The 152-fixture African journey to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil begins Friday with Djibouti and Namibia first into action on a 10-game schedule.
Former World Cup qualifiers Democratic Republic of Congo -- called Zaire when they competed in 1974 -- and 2006 participants Togo are among 22 teams involved in a whirlwind first round.
Return matches are slated for November 15 apart from the Somalia-Ethiopia tie, which will be played a day later because the first leg has been put back 24 hours as it is also being played in Djibouti owing to the Somali civil war.
The 11 overall winners plus Liberia, who received a bye when cash-strapped Mauritius withdrew, advance to the mini-league second phase starting next June where they will be joined by the 28 top-ranked nations when the draw was made.
Other teams in action this weekend include Kenya, under new coach Francis Kimanzi, and 2012 Africa Cup of Nations co-hosts Equatorial Guinea, who will relish some competitive fare after a year of friendlies.
DR Congo were the first sub-Saharan country to represent Africa at the World Cup and either side of being cruelly exposed in a 9-0 drubbing from Yugoslavia, suffered far less painful losses against Scotland and Brazil.
The Congolese recently hired experienced Frenchman Claude le Roy for a second spell as coach and he will be encouraged by a 3-0 win over Lesotho in neutral Pretoria last weekend as they prepare to visit struggling Swaziland.
Talismanic midfielder Mputu Mabi from four-time African club champions TP Mazembe is back after a one-year ban for chasing and kicking a referee and a mix of local and foreign-based stars should succeed in picturesque Lobamba.
Swaziland upset DR Congo 1-0 and held Cameroon 0-0 at home in 1994 World Cup eliminators, but the current national squad is among the weakest in Africa having lost all six 2012 Cup of Nations qualifiers.
Togo are trying to lure Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor out of national team retirement, but should have the beating of Guinea Bissau even without the gangling goal poacher.
Adebayor quit after the Togolese were attacked by separatists and suffered two fatalities as they entered Angola for the 2010 Cup of Nations and the team has been in the doldrums since with just one victory from eight 2012 qualifiers.
Guinea Bissau have been equally poor, losing five 2012 African eliminators on the trot after a win over Kenya, and history is also against them with Togo winning 3-0 overall when they clashed in a 2002 World Cup qualifier.
Kenya improved since that miserable day on an artificial pitch in Bissau and although they will not be at the African finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next January, ended promisingly by forcing a 0-0 draw at bitter rivals Uganda.
The Harambee Stars face football featherweights Seychelles, with the first leg on the Indian Ocean islands best known for tourism, and a Kenyan side parading Europe-based stars MacDonald Mariga and Dennis Oliech should win both games.
Widely travelled French coach Henri Michel quit and rejoined Equatorial Guinea last month as he complained of poor support from officials while a 1-1 friendly draw with Cameroon in Malabo suggests his year-long work is reaping reward.
Madagascar visit the Equatoguinean capital for one of the more intriguing ties with only one place separating the countries on the FIFA Africa rankings ahead of a first leg between teams lacking 'big names'.
Congo Brazzaville do boast a 'big name' in Wydad Casablanca striker Fabrice Ondama, but he may not face little Sao Tome e Principe as his club is preparing to face Esperance of Tunisia in the African Champions League final this weekend.
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