NIGERIA SEEK REDEMPTION
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.