Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 16 August 2018

World Cup qualifiers Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana face nervy Nations Cup prospects

The three African footballing powers all still need things to fall their way in this week's final round of Africa Cup of Nations qualifying to enter the tournament.

Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana face nervous finishes to Africa Cup of Nations qualifying this week, and the embarrassment of possibly sitting out the continental championship only months after playing at the World Cup.

The three are not yet certain of a place at next year’s tournament with one round of games to go. The last six of 16 spots in January and February in Equatorial Guinea will be decided in the last-round scramble on Wednesday, when Republic of Congo, DR Congo, Uganda and Malawi could be surprise qualifiers.

Defending champions Nigeria are in a dire situation after they failed to win any of their first three qualifiers and responded by firing 2013 African Cup-winning coach Stephen Keshi.

But with Keshi re-instated after his temporary replacement insisted he was still the best man for the job, Nigeria won 2-0 in Republic of Congo this weekend to climb into the qualifying places. That means Nigeria will scrape through if they beat already-qualified South Africa at home on Wednesday. However, anything less could see Republic of Congo go through.

Ivory Coast also lifted themselves back into contention with a 5-1 rout of Sierra Leone. But they also face an already-qualified opponent in Cameroon, who beat the Ivorians 4-1 in September. A draw in Abidjan will seal Ivory Coast’s place in Equatorial Guinea ahead of DR Congo.

Ghana top their group, but a surprise 1-0 loss in Uganda while captain Asamoah Gyan was missing with injury means there’s still work to do for the former World Cup quarter-finalists at home against Togo. Guinea’s commanding 4-1 victory in Togo in the penultimate round means any two of the four teams can still qualify automatically as top two finishers in the group.

As one of the West African countries badly affected by the Ebola outbreak and with more than 1,000 deaths, Guinea’s qualification would also bring further complications to a tournament that days ago had a late change of host because of the deadly virus.

Equatorial Guinea will now stage the January 17-February 8 tournament after Morocco was dumped for expressing fears over Ebola and asking for a postponement.

One of the biggest surprises to make it to Equatorial Guinea would be Malawi, who will book their place if their result at Ethiopia is better than Mali’s at home against Algeria. Mali will be made more nervous by the fact that the Algerians have won five from five in qualifying in an impressive start under new coach Christian Gourcuff and appear to be early favourites to win the overall title next year.

Having missed out on the two automatic places from Group G, record seven-time African champions Egypt can only hope to qualify as the one best third-place team from the seven groups. Egypt probably need to win at North African rivals Tunisia to have a chance of that or they will likely miss out on a third straight African Cup after winning the last time they played in it in 2010.

Algeria, Cape Verde, Tunisia, South Africa, Zambia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Senegal have already qualified alongside Equatorial Guinea, the new stand-in hosts.

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