The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

AFRICA CUP of Na­tions flops Nige­ria and South Africa face tricky matches in Zam­bia and Burk­ina Faso this week­end when the group phase of 2018 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing kicks off. The Su­per Ea­gles and Bafana Bafana (The Boys) will be no­table ab­sen­tees at the African show­piece in Gabon dur­ing Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary af­ter los­ing out to Egypt and Cameroon. Five-time World Cup qual­i­fiers Nige­ria ap­pear to have the tougher task af­ter be­ing placed with Al­ge­ria, Cameroon and Zam­bia, un­doubt­edly the ‘group of death’ among five four-team mini-leagues. But it is not go­ing to be much eas­ier for South Africa as they try to top a sec­tion in­clud­ing in-form Sene­gal, con­fi­dent Burk­ina Faso and Cape Verde, a team ranked No. 1 in Africa for part of this year. Cameroon will be play­ing in Bl­ida, a city where Al­ge­ria are vir­tu­ally in­vin­ci­ble and scored seven goals each against Ethiopia and Tan­za­nia within the past 12 months. A home draw with lowly Gam­bia fol­lowed by an away loss at football mid­dleweights Mau­ri­ta­nia left Bafana with a Cup of Na­tions moun­tain to scale, and they never looked like reach­ing the sum­mit. Winger Gerv­inho will be the only sur­vivor of the Ivory Coast ‘golden gen­er­a­tion’ on show against Mali in Bouake af­ter the re­cent re­tire­ment of tal­is­man Yaya Toure and the rest­ing of rusty Salomon Kalou. Ghana will lack in­jured mid­field­ers An­dre ‘Dede’ Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah when they host Uganda in Ta­male, but veteran striker Asamoah Gyan is fit to cap­tain the Black Stars.

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