Wednesday June 12th, 2013

Former U.S. coach Bob Bradley has Egypt in position to make the final round of qualifying.
Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images

African Football Confederation

Nations eliminated: Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Zimbabwe.

Nations alive (in order of FIFA ranking): Ivory Coast (13), Ghana (21), Mali (23), Nigeria (31), Algeria (35), Tunisia (42), Zambia (49), Burkina Faso (51), South Africa (60), Equatorial Guinea (64), Cameroon (65), Libya (69), Sierra Leone (70), Egypt (71), Togo (73), Morocco (77), Congo DR (79), Congo (80), Gabon (82), Guinea (85), Angola (91), Uganda (93), Senegal (99), Liberia (100), Ethiopia (106), Malawi (109), Tanzania (109), Benin (115), Namibia (120).

Nations qualified (in order of FIFA ranking): None.

Qualification System

There are 10 groups of four teams playing each other home and away (final games Sept. 6). The 10 group winners are then drawn into five head-to-head home and away ties, the winners of those qualifying for the World Cup.

Standings

Group A
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Ethiopia43106210
South Africa4220728
Central African Republic4103273
Botswana4013261
Group B
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Tunisia43109510
Sierra Leone4121775
Equatorial Guinea41128104
Cape Verde4103793
Group C
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Ivory Coast431010210
Tanzania4202666
Morocco4121675
Gambia4013291
Group D
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Zambia43109110
Ghana43011429
Lesotho40221122
Sudan40131101
Group E
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Congo43105010
Burkina Faso4202546
Gabon4112144
Niger4103363
Group F
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Nigeria4220428
Malawi4130216
Namibia4112124
Kenya4022132
Group G
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Egypt440011512
Guinea4211947
Mozambique4022182
Zimbabwe4013371
Group H
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Algeria43011149
Mali4211547
Benin4112474
Rwanda4022382
Group I
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Libya4130326
Cameroon4202456
Congo DR4121215
Togo4112454
Group J
NationGames PlayedWinsDrawsLossesGoalsGoals AgainstPoints
Senegal4130646
Uganda4121345
Angola4040334
Liberia4112344

Qualification Storylines

1. Zambia or Ghana? One favored side is going to be eliminated from Group D as Zambia, African champions in 2012, battle for a playoff spot against Ghana, which was within a Luis Suarez handball of reaching the semifinal at the 2010 World Cup. Zambia has faltered of late and went out on the group stage of this year's African Cup of Nations, and there is pressure on its manager, Herve Renard, but it got extremely lucky when a 2-0 defeat in Sudan last June was awarded as a 3-0 win after Sudan was found to have fielded an ineligible player.

2. Cameroon. In 2002, Cameroon won its second successive Cup of Nations. It had won an Olympic gold two years earlier and four successive World Cup qualifications marked it out as the greatest force in Africa. So precipitous has been its fall that it hasn't even qualified for the last two Cups of Nations. Despite a defeat to Libya, it's in the running to make the playoffs this time around, but it would do so under yet another new coach, the German Volker Finke stepping in to replace Jean-Paul Akono, a decision taken before the former international defender suffered a mild heart attack.

3. Egypt. One of the bafflements of African football was how Egypt could be so clearly the best side on the continent, winning three straight Cups of Nations between 2006 and 2010, and yet fail to qualify for the World Cup. Now the situation seems to have been reversed. Political instability contributed to its failure to qualify for either of the last two Cups of Nations but, under Bob Bradley, it has enjoyed a lightning start to the group stage and looks all but certain to reach at least the playoffs, putting a first World Cup appearance since 1990 in reach.

Cinderella Story

Ethiopia. The distance-running mecca was one of the founders of CAF in 1957 and was an early power in Africa, winning the Cup of Nations in 1962. It fell rapidly, though, and its appearance in this year's finals was its first since 1962. Yet with South Africa wobbling, particularly in a draw in Rustenburg last June when the crowd was predominantly Ethiopian ex-pats, Ethiopia, against all expectations, finds itself in control of the group. The home game against South Africa on Sunday will be vital.

Looking Ahead

The African champion, Nigeria, never does anything easily and, while it should reach the playoffs, it could yet be that its home qualifier against Malawi in September is a straight shootout to top the group. Ghana's game against Zambia that same weekend is almost certain to be a winner-takes-all affair. Congo, Egypt and Tunisia should wrap up their playoff spots easily enough, as should Ivory Coast, even if it did slip up in Morocco. Cameroon and South Africa are struggling -- and could be supplanted by Libya and Ethiopia, respectively -- while there's a tussle in Group H between Algeria and Mali. Senegal has been less than convincing, but it would still be something of a surprise if it were to be overhauled by Uganda, Liberia or Angola. The real drama, though, will come in the playoffs: five two-legged ties, with the winners to qualify for Brazil and nothing for the losers. It's a crazy system, but it's a lot of fun.

Prediction

Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Tunisia qualify (although much depends on the draw for the final playoffs).

DART: Europe outlook

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