Johannesburg - Ivory Coast and Ghana launch campaigns for
their fourth consecutive World Cup appearances with away fixtures this week
against much lower-ranked opponents Liberia and Comoros respectively.
It is a feat only Cameroon have achieved among the 54
African football nations, qualifying for the 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002
tournaments before a saved penalty cost them a 2006 place.
Reigning African champions Ivory Coast travel to Liberia --
the country that produced 1995 World and European Footballer of the Year George
Weah -- who are 64 places lower in the global rankings.
Ghana visit the Comoros, an island state off the south-east
coast of Africa and 147 rungs lower than their opponents on the FIFA list.
Seeding means many of the 20 second round qualifiers, to be
played on a home-and-away basis between Wednesday and next Tuesday, appear lob
Algeria are 109 places above Tanzania, Cape Verde 93 rungs
higher than Kenya, and Egypt and Senegal 79 places each above Chad and
Also read: South Sudan to make debut in W/Cup qualifiers
However, a glimmer of hope for lower-ranked nations is that
they enjoy home advantage first, offering a chance to build a lead in ties to
be decided by goal aggregate.
Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, who hopes to win a
record-extending fifth consecutive African Footballer of the Year title in
January, is a notable Ivorian absentee.
France-born coach Michel Dussuyer said the 32-year-old
"has not expressed a desire to rejoin the squad".
Toure was a key figure as he helped the Elephants finally
fulfil a decade of promise by winning the Africa Cup of Nations last February
in Equatorial Guinea.
But he has resisted the physical exertions of travelling to
and from Africa since, missing the start of the Cup of Nations defence, a drab
0-0 draw away to Sierra Leone.
While Ivory Coast, who replaced Algeria at the top of the
African rankings last week, had a first-round bye, Liberia took an unusual
route past Guinea-Bissau.
Held 1-1 at home, the Lone Stars triumphed 3-1 away and all
four goals in the tie came from Portugal-based William Jebor, who is on loan to
a Spanish second division outfit.
"Liberia are a respectable side who beat Tunisia in a
2017 Cup of Nations qualifier," warned Dussuyer. "We are expecting a
Ghana will also lack a star midfielder as injury rules out
Kwadwo Asamoah from 2015 European Champions League runners-up Juventus.
But two vital Black Stars components -- midfielder Andre
Ayew and striker Asamoah Gyan -- are back after missing a friendly draw with
Canada in Washington.
Gyan was chosen by coach Avram Grant, the former Chelsea and
West Ham United manager, after a two-month battle with a knee injury.
"It has been frustrating as I regain fitness only to
suffer a setback and have to start all over again," said the China-based
Comoros, with a squad including footballers who play in the
amateur fourth and fifth levels of French club football, secured a date with
Ghana on away goals after drawing twice with Lesotho.
Teenage English Premier League reserves Kelechi Iheanacho of
Manchester City and Alex Iwobi of Arsenal have been called up by Nigeria for
the trip to Swaziland.
Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh, who said he was
"shocked" by the recent retirement of Emmanuel Emenike, recalled
veteran USA-based striker Obafemi Martins.
South Africa, away to Angola first in the only tie featuring
two previous World Cup qualifiers, must do without goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
The 28-year-old from Kaizer Chiefs, who is among the best
shot-stoppers in Africa, suffered a training-ground knee injury and faces an
Bafana Bafana (The Boys) coach Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba has
set his team an ambitious target of winning in coastal city Benguela.
"We have to ensure we win away and then consolidate
that success by scoring a few more goals in the return match."
Cameroon, who hold the African record for World Cup
appearances with seven, visit Niger, scorers of six unanswered goals in home
and away first-round victories over Somalia.
The closest ties, judged by rankings, could be Benin against
Burkina Faso and four-time qualifiers Morocco against Equatorial Guinea, with
just 10 world places dividing them.For
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