WC qualifying: Big names the big talking points

Posted by Firdose Moonda

Schalke's Kevin-Prince Boateng is back for Ghana.GettyImagesKevin-Prince Boateng's brother could get bigger bonuses with Germany.

The inclusion of some big names is as much a talking point as the absence of others in this weekend's crucial round of African World Cup qualifiers. Seven of the ten groups are still to be decided in the final round of pool matches with only Ivory Coast, Egypt and Algeria assured of a spot in the two-legged playoffs. The rest have done as much as they can to haul out their stars in the hope of taking a step closer to Brazil.

Africa's best performers at the 2010 World Cup, Ghana, have gone all out in their quest to repeat their feat in South Africa, where they reached the quarter-finals. They have recalled Kevin-Prince Boateng and Andrew Ayew, both of whom had fallen out of favour, but are known for their ability to single-handedly change a game.

They have also included midfielder Michael Essien, who made himself available for national duty again and wrote on his Chelsea blog that he is "now in a position to combine national team duties with club duties", which he could not manage previously. Essien suffered a personal tragedy when his father died on Sunday night, but he may still take the field.

- Essien, Boateng back for Ghana for qualifier

The Black Stars only need a draw to advance to the next leg and will hope their marquee men can produce that and more against a depleted Zambia. 2012's African champions have failed to build on their dream run from that event and will require an inspirational performance. They will be without strikers Collins Mbesuma and Jacob Mulenga for the key clash. Mbesuma has an ankle injury while Mulenga has a thigh niggle.

Zambia also had other problems in the lead-up. Their charter flight could not take off after Ghanaian authorities informed the pilot that the airplane did not have permission to land at Kumasi airport, which is not an international landing base.

As news of the diverted travel plans emerged, the hype around the match took on a life of its own. #GhanavZambia was the top trending topic on Twitter in South Africa and fans from the two countries engaged in robust banter to talk this match up as what could be the clash of the final round.

Another fixture that has been hit by a logistical issue is the one between Senegal and Uganda. After the fixture was moved to Morocco, because Senegal cannot host matches because of crowd trouble, their kick-off time has been moved back an hour. But perhaps of greater consequence than when the game actually starts is that Senegal are without Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, who are both serving suspensions following bookings.

Senegal are not the only West African heavyweight hoping to make it through. Cameroon, who will be led by Samuel Eto'o and will field a team comprised entirely of foreign-based players, are the other and will take on Libya. They have brought back experienced goalkeeper Idriss Carlos Kameni who last played for the country a year ago when they lost out on qualification for the 2013 African Cup of Nations to minnows Cape Verde.

The islanders will be on a mission of their own when take on Tunisia in Rades. Having won fans' hearts with gutsy performances in South Africa at the ANC earlier this year, Cape Verde have few big names to call on but have included a face from the CAF Champions League in Recreativo do Libolo's Sydney.

Other minnows aiming for the big time are Congo, who come up against ANC finalists Burkina Faso in one of the more open groups in the tournament, and Malawi, who will have to beat a Nigerian side packed with superstars if they hope to qualify. This match could well be headlined by the two coaches. Stephen Keshi and Tom Saintfeit were embroiled in a war of words, in which Saintfeit reported Keshi for being racist.

Keshi has not hit back publicly but seems set to do so on the pitch as he looks set to field his best XI with Vincent Enyeama, who was not part of the Nelson Mandela Challenge friendly against South Africa, is back, along with Ogenyi Onanzi, who was recently injured, Victor Moses, John Obi Mikel and Emmanuel Emenike. Malawi lost to Botswana in the build-up, which does not bode well for their meeting with the continental champions.

Meanwhile, Botswana will be involved in one of the more engaging ties of the weekend. They take on South Africa in a group that will hinge on both results. Bafana Bafana have brought back former captain Bongani Khumalo, who now has regular game time at Doncaster Rovers, and enterprising midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi for their must-win game.

They also have to hope the Central African Republic pull off a surprise against an Ethiopian side who have all their high-profile men in the team. Saladin Said and Getaneh Kebede will lead the strike force as the East Africans go in search of history and chase the chance to take a few unknowns and put their names up in lights.


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