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Football: African struggle to reach Brazil hots up

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A group-by-group analysis of the 2014 World Cup qualifying competition in Africa after the mini-league second round reached the halfway mark this week.

GROUP A

South Africa were expected to dominate one of the weakest four-team sections, but a team with an unimpressive away record are two points behind Ethiopia and must visit Addis Ababa during June.

Ethiopia are on the rise, competing in the Cup of Nations two months ago after a 31-year absence, with Salahdin Said a proven scorer and Shemeles Bekele a dazzling dribbler.

GROUP B

Tunisia are looking good for a final-phase slot with victories over Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde Islands and Sierra Leone giving them a five-point advantage.

It is difficult to imagine the experienced Carthage Eagles slipping under new coach Nabil Maaloul as they seek to atone for a disappointing first round exit from the recent Cup of Nations.

GROUP C

Tanzania have emerged as unexpected main challengers to hot favourites Ivory Coast, who are desperate to make Brazil having failed this year for the fifth consecutive Cup of Nations to justify favouritism.

Ivory Coast are one point ahead of Tanzania, whose shock home win over four time qualifiers Morocco catapulted them into contention, and the Elephants must visit Dar es Salaam during June.

GROUP D

Zambia surrendered the advantage gained from a 'boardroom' victory over Sudan when they conceded a late goal with 10 men to drop two points in an away draw with minnows Lesotho.

This result opens the door for 2006 and 2010 qualifiers Ghana, whose loss in Zambia will be irrelevant if they can win away to Sudan and Lesotho and at home to the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets).

GROUP E

Congo Brazzaville are well placed with maximum points from three outings and a potentially crucial home fixture to come against surprise 2013 Cup of Nations runners-up Burkina Faso.

Gabon and Niger appear out of contention, leaving Burkina Faso to try and overcome a six-point deficit after a terrible start in which they forfeited the point from a home draw with the Congolese and lost to the Gabonese.

GROUP F

It is proving tougher than expected for new African champions Nigeria with Malawi and Kenya holding the Super Eagles and Namibia defending bravely before conceding a match-winning late goal.

Success-starved Kenya were denied victory in Calabar by a stoppage-time goal but new Algeria-born coach Adel Amrouche must be encouraged ahead of the return match in Nairobi during June.

GROUP G

Egypt may have been African champions a record seven times but American coach Bob Bradley knows what really matters is the World Cup with the Pharaohs' last appearance 23 years ago.

After a routine victory over Mozambique, they exceeded expectations with a win in Guinea and a late victory against Zimbabwe leaves them five points clear and favoured to head the final standings.

GROUP H

Algeria shrugged off a disastrous 2013 Cup of Nations, in which they took one point from a possible nine after being touted as possible champions, by beating Benin to lead Mali on goal difference.

Although Benin cannot be dismissed, the struggle for supremacy is likely to come down to the Desert Foxes and the Eagles with the outcome of their September showdown in Algeria probably crucial.

GROUP I

Fallen giants Cameroon are one point ahead of Libya and two above Democratic Republic of Congo in a tight contest that could go down to the wire between the Indomitable Lions and the Mediterranean Knights.

Libya have two home fixtures to come compared with the one of Cameroon and the north Africans received a boost with African body CAF clearing them to play before their supporters after a long security-related ban.

GROUP J

Another intriguing mini-league with one-point gaps separating Senegal, Liberia, Angola and Uganda and the situation could become even tighter after the next round.

A Senegal side coached by former France star Alain Giresse look strongest on paper with a Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse strike force, but 2006 qualifiers Angola could emerge surprise winners.

dl/bc

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130327/football-african-struggle-reach-brazil-hots