Mega clash of the gi­ants to qual­ify

Nige­ria, Ghana and Ivory Coast need vic­tory to book Af­con places next year

The Star Early Edition - - SOCCER - SAPA-AFP

DE­FEND­ING cham­pi­ons Nige­ria will lead sev­eral top teams to­day, in­clud­ing four-time win­ners Ghana and the Ivory Coast, in a fi­nal bid to qual­ify for next year’s African Cup of Na­tions in Equa­to­rial Guinea.

The Su­per Ea­gles got their stut­ter­ing cam­paign back on track at the week­end in Poin­teNoire, beat­ing hosts Congo 2-0 to can­cel out a 3-2 shock home loss in Septem­ber.

Nige­ria, sec­ond in Group A with seven points from five matches, will bid to beat group win­ners South Africa in the brand-new Akwa Ibom In­ter­na­tional Sta­dium in Uyo to book their place in next year’s con­ti­nen­tal show­piece.

“It was not an easy game against a very de­ter­mined Congo side, but luck was on our side. We took a big step for­ward,” said coach Stephen Keshi, who will be with­out Read­ing mid­fielder Hope Ak­pan, who dis­lo­cated his shoul­der in Congo.

“Now we must do ev­ery­thing to get the three points and qual­ify for the Na­tions Cup.”

Win­ners in 1996, South Africa are un­beaten in qual­i­fy­ing un­der coach Shakes Mashaba but head to the south­ern town of Uyo with a poor record of just one win in 10 matches against Nige­ria.

“Go­ing back to Nige­ria will be war, it won’t be just an or­di­nary foot­ball match,” ad­mit­ted Mashaba. “Nige­ria never ex­pected to draw with us, and we should’ve beaten them on the day – luck was just not on our side.”

Third-placed Congo-Braz­zav­ille are hop­ing Bafana can do them a big favour by not los­ing in Nige­ria and they win in Su­dan. Congo, who last fea­tured at the Na­tions Cup 14 years ago, could also qual­ify as thirdbest losers if they beat Su­dan and Guinea fail to beat Uganda at home.

The Black Stars of Ghana stum­bled to a 1-0 loss in Uganda on Satur­day, but they are still top of Group E with eight points and will only need to draw with vis­it­ing Togo to ad­vance. “We have to go all out in the game and I am sure we will qual­ify for the Na­tions Cup,” said Ever­ton for­ward Christian Atsu. Sus­pended Jor­dan Ayew will re­turn, but older brother An­dre Ayew suf­fered a thigh in­jury in Uganda and is now a ma­jor in­jury doubt.

Guinea blew open Group E after they trounced Togo 4-1 in Lome at the week­end, and now have to beat Uganda by more than 2-0 in their fi­nal match at home to book their ticket. Both Uganda and Guinea now have seven points, but Uganda are ahead on the head-to-head rule after they beat the Syli Stars 2-0 in Kampala in Septem­ber.

It is a straight fight be­tween the Ivory Coast and DRC for the re­main­ing au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion from Group D after a sec­ond-half strike by Vincent Aboubakar against DRC in Yaounde gave the Cameroon an unas­sail­able 13 points.

The Ivo­rians are on nine points, three points clear of DRC, and will now need at least a draw at home in Abidjan against Cameroon to guar­an­tee their place.

The Ele­phants, now cap­tained by Manch­ester City star Yaya Toure, fell 4-2 in Cameroon three months ago in a very en­ter­tain­ing clash.

DRC skip­per Yous­souf Mu­lumbu said they have not given up hope of qual­i­fy­ing and will hope re­sults go their way tonight.

“We still be­lieve in qual­i­fy­ing for the African Cup of Na­tions. Our chances have been re­duced, but I still keep faith,” said the Eng­land-based mid­fielder.

Mali, Malawi and Ethiopia will jos­tle for another ticket in Group B, which has al­ready been won by in-form Al­ge­ria.

The Ea­gles of Mali are sec­ond with six points and wel­come Al­ge­ria to Bamako, while Malawi, who also have six points but an in­fe­rior goals dif­fer­ence, square up against bot­tom team Ethiopia, who are on three points.

PIC­TURE: GETTY IMAGES

THAT WIN­NING FEEL­ING: Ivory Coast must at least draw against group win­ners Cameroon to­day if they are to se­cure their spot in Equa­to­rial Guinea next year. Here Wil­fried Bony, cen­tre, cel­e­brates with cap­tain Yaya Toure, left, and Gerv­inho after scor­ing a goal in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion.

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