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Cup of Nations | Oct 13, 2012

Afcon qualifiers set for dramatic climax

Afcon qualifiers set for dramatic climax

BBC Sport looks ahead to what is set to be a dramatic weekend of 2013 Africa Cup of Nations final-round, second-leg qualifiers for next year's tournament in South Africa.

Saturday's matches:
Malawi v Ghana

Lilongwe, 1230 GMT kick-off
First leg score: 0-2
Malawi simply cannot afford to concede if they are to have any hope of qualifying. But they will be boosted by the return of centre-back Foster Namwela, who missed the first match because of suspension.

And Namwela has a plan to keep the Black Stars out.

"We have to try and close them down on the wings and also keep the ball because they are good at keeping it and if we lose it that will always be difficult to regain possession," he told the Confederation of African football website.

"We still have a chance to progress, it is all up to us. If Ghana scored two goals in Accra why can we also not score two goals at home in Lilongwe?"

Coach Kinnah Phiri has recalled veteran striker Esau Kanyenda and Chiukepo Msowoya, who missed the first leg match in Accra to beef up his striking force.

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Ghana, meanwhile, may have to make do without Juventus star Kwado Asamoah, who was unable to train on Wednesday because of an ankle injury.

Ghana Football Association president Kwasi Nyantakyi is in buoyant mood ahead of the tie.

He told BBC Sport: "I am very confident that we will qualify because of the work that has been done with the team; the investment, time, preparation and resources. We are confident that the boys will live up to expectations."

Botswana v Mali
Gaborone, 1300 GMT kick-off
First leg score: 0-3
A Botswana comeback appears highly unlikely, but the least they will want to do is avoid a third consecutive defeat by Mali.

However, with unrest in the camp and players such as Onalethata Tshekiso, Tshepo Motlhabankwe, Dirang Moloi, Pontsho Moloi and Phenyo Mongala apparently unwilling to play, the Zebras look down and out.

Mali, though, are not without their issues - captain Seydou Keita who scored in his side's 2-1 win over Zebras will miss the game this weekend through injury. And he is joined on the sidelines by Randers defender Adama Tamboura as well as Guingamp striker Moustapha Yatabare.

Mali coach Patrice Carteron has subsequently summoned defender Ousmane Berthe, Alou Bagayoko and Idrissa Nama Laico Traore as reinforcements for the second leg in Gaborone.

Uganda v Zambia
Kampala, 1300 GMT kick-off
First leg score: 0-1
African champions Zambia will be without star midfielder Rainford Kalaba who has been ruled out with a groin injury, and striker Jacob Mulenga, who is mourning the recent death of his father.

The pair's absence is a blow to the Chipolopolo, who have struggled to replicate the form that took that saw them crowned champions at the start of the year.

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The slenderest of leads means Zambia will have to raise their game if they are to have a chance of defending their title in South Africa, particularly given Uganda's excellent home record.

Uganda coach Bobby Williamson is desperate to lead the team to their first finals since 1978, and he is quietly optimistic of doing so.

He told BBC Sport: "We are quite formidable at home but it's getting that goal. Zambia are very good defensively, they don't concede many goals. It's a big ask but we are confident without being over-confident.

"It would probably be the biggest achievement of my career if we made it through. Zambia are the champions and they have a good squad of players who work hard for each other. But who knows? It's football, shocks do come around."

Equatorial Guinea v DR Congo
Malabo, 1500 GMT kick-off
First leg score: 0-4
After taking a hammering in the first leg, Equatorial Guinea may see this second leg as purely an exercise in damage limitation.

Their Brazilian coach Gilson Paulo took over the reins in January and steered them to the quarter-finals of the Nations Cup earlier this year, but it is virtually certain they will not get the chance to emulate that result in South Africa.

DR Congo are a team in form, with the two-time African champions enjoying a resurgence that is in part led by a group of Belgium-based players.

One of whom, Anderlecht forward Dieumerci Mbokani, was inspiration in the first leg, scoring twice and having a hand in the other goals. He is likely to be a major threat again.

Nigeria v Liberia
Calabar, 1500 GMT kick-off
First leg score: 2-2
Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo is a major doubt after suffering a knee injury while in action for his club, Fenerbache. His chances of making the game are rated at "less than 30%", according to Nigeria spokesman Ben Alaiya.

In midfield, Nigeria's options have been boosted by the availability of Chelsea star John Mikel Obi, who opted out of the first leg because he did not want to play on a synthetic pitch.

Goalkeeper Austin Ejide and Inter Milan ace Joel Obi were also recalled by coach Stephen Keshi and could feature.

Liberia will look to midfielder Sekou Oliseh to again provide drive and inspiration.

The 22-year-old, who plays for Russian side CSKA Moscow, scored his side's second goal in the first leg - a late equaliser that left the tie finely balanced.

Tunisia v Sierra Leone
Monastir, 1815 GMT kick-off
First leg score: 2-2
The hosts will be hoping their Esperance stars have fully recovered from the club's 19,000 kilometre round trip to DR Congo-based side TP Mazembe for an African Champions League tie.

A fully fit Tunisia squad could be considered slight favourites to go through given their home advantage and their two away goals.

Sierra Leone coach Lars Olof Mattsson is hoping to have AC Milan midfielder Rodney Strasser available after taking a gamble in including the injured player in his squad. Strasser has yet to play this season because of an ankle injury.

Moldova-based Abu Tommy is on standby as a replacement, but he is also continuing a recovery from injury and may not be fit in time.

Senegal v Ivory Coast
Senegal, 1830 GMT kick-off
First leg score: 2-4
English Premier League side Newcastle have three of their players taking part in this fixture, with strikers Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba lining up for Senegal and midfield enforcer Cheick Tiote in the Ivory Coast side.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew believes it is too tight to predict a winner and hinted that he expects there to be plenty of goals once again.

"It's an interesting fixture, poised actually, and I think it'll be hard to hold on to a two-goal lead but we'll see," he told BBC Sport.

Certainly Senegal have the firepower to worry the Ivorians, with both Cisse and Ba in excellent form this season. But their chances of clawing their way back into the tie could rest on whether they can keep out another of Africa's finest strikers - Didier Drogba.

The ex-Chelsea man, who now plays in China, recognises this could be his last chance to win the Nations Cup - a prize that has eluded him in a glittering career.

"For me and my team-mates, it would be a great trophy to have, a just reward for the last 10 years when we've worked so hard and tried to carry the country," he said.

Morocco v Mozambique
Marrakech, 2000 GMT kick-off
First leg score: 0-2
A new-look Morocco will aim to overturn a two-goal deficit under the leadership of new coach Rachid Taoussi, who took over the reins after Belgian coach Eric Gerets was sacked following the first-leg defeat.

Taoussi has dropped the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Mbark Boussoufa and Adel Taarabt, and will largely place his faith in home-based players. However, he has brought in Getafe's Abdel Barrada and Liverpool's Oussama Assaidi.

Mozambique will fancy their chances after shaking off their underdog status to capitalise on home advantage.

They secured a shock victory with late goals from former Platinum Stars defender Almiro Lobo and Mamelodi Sundowns forward Elias Pelembe.

And the same squad will get the chance to finish off the job as coach Gert Josef Arthur Engels has made no alterations to his personnel.

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