Afcon 2013: road to South Africa begins


CAIRO A total of 28 teams begin the race for the finals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) to he held in South Africa, as they clash today in the first round of qualifying games.

Teams that failed to qualify for the recently-concluded 2012 Afcon have been denied the bye others are currently enjoying from the first round qualifying matches of the 2013 Afcon, and will thus kick off their journey to South Africa today.

Some 28 teams, including giants Cameroon and Nigeria, will race against each other for a spot to the next round.

Ethiopia Benin
Neither team survived the battles of their respective groups during the 2012 Afcon qualifiers owing to the presence of big guns Guinea and Nigeria for Ethiopia and Ivory Coast for Benin.

However, there are indications this time on both squads that determination is high to reach the finals of South Africa 2013, and the Squirrels have considerably overhauled their outfit with the arrival of a new coach in Frenchman Manuel Amoros, who has vowed to come back from the Addis Ababa meeting with a victory.

Congo Uganda
Congo have not qualified for the Afcon finals for the past 10 years while Uganda have not been part of proceedings for the last two decades.

The 1972 champions are still struggling to revive their once brilliant football, but efforts have been clogged along the line by political crisis and disorganisation at the football federation.

Uganda are at risk while playing away from home, but coach Jean-Guy Wallemme is counting on a fast-improving set-up for a possible surprise in Brazzaville.

Gambia Algeria
Algeria were one of the surprising absentees of the 2012 Afcon, having eliminated Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals of the 2010 edition.

Their failure to book a place to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea may likely be made up for this time, but their trip to Banjul needs to be fortuitous, considering the weaknesses they evinced in their away fixtures during the 2012 qualifying.

Kenya Togo
Kenya were strong in the 2012 qualifying campaign, but were outrun by teams like Angola and Uganda.

The Harambee Stars will not want to repeat a home draw this time, as Uganda forced them to do last year. Emmanuel Adebayor, who now carries the hope of Togo for a ticket to South Africa 2013, will try his best in an unfamiliar ground.

So Tom e Principe Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone are debuting with a relatively easy opponent, but playing away might not present as rosy a match as pundits are suggesting.

Guinea Bissau Cameroon
With new coach Denis Lavagne, good things may be in store for the Indomitable Lions once again, according to many local fans and officials.

The match against Guinea Bissau, although far from being a strong adversary, will be the former Coton Sport managers first real test, and being he will be doing without former captain Samuel Etoo who is serving a ban, observers are expecting to see how different the Frenchman is from others who have failed before him.

Chad Malawi
Both teams were pitted against each other in Group K of the 2012 Afcon qualifying, with tickets eventually clinched by Botswana and Tunisia.

Malawi had dominated Chad 8-4 on aggregate and are poised to repeat that performance which Chad must counter if they want to move on.

Seychelles DRC
The two-time African champions Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have failed to qualify for the finals since 2006 when they last appeared and reached the quarter-finals.

They finished third behind Cameroon in Group E during the 2012 campaign, but with the arrival of a new coach Claude Le Roy, who has great knowledge of the team having served there from 2004 to 2006, hopes are rising the Frenchman could bring back the old good days.

Playing Seychelles in an away fixture will be his first real test.

Tanzania Mozambique
Tanzania finished at the bottom of Group D in the previous qualifiers with five points and are debuting in this edition with a clash against Mozambique, who finished fourth with seven points the last time around. Both teams seem relatively well balanced, which suggests an explosive encounter today in Dar es Salaam.

CAR Egypt; postponed, June 30
Egypts 2013 Afcon qualifier against Central African Republic (CAR) has been moved from February 29 to June 30 due to the recent unrest in the country that followed the Port Said tragedy during which at least 74 people were killed.

The most successful African team, Egypt, need to prove through this match against CAR they are recovering from the loss of form that cost them a ticket to the 2012 Afcon.

This game will draw much attention because it will either confirm the demise of the Pharaohs or prove observers quite wrong.

Madagascar Cape Verde
Both teams are struggling to climb on board in continental football.

Cape Verde were quite inspiring at the start of the 2012 Afcon qualifying, having occupied pole position in Group A, which included Mali, who eventually snaffled the ticket by equalling the Islanders 10 point tally, but on better goal difference.

Carting away with a good result from Madagascar will be a great motivation for the Blue Sharks.
Liberia Namibia

Both teams were bottom-finishers last time.
Their ambition might still be to reach the Afcon finals at all costs, but toiling starts from this encounter.