The second round of qualification matches for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations is one of many international causes to disrupt club football worldwide this weekend.
The tension between domestic and international managers becomes a talking point, especially given the state in which many top players return to their leagues. When it comes to Africa, it’s more a case of which teams can coax their stars back into national colours come the time for departure. With a host of sides doing battle over the coming weekend, we’ve narrowed down our picks to include some away wins and try and land a decent multiple come Monday.
Friday 04 September
Rwanda began their quest to claim a spot in the AFCON for the second time in their history with a 1-0 win in Mozambique. They currently occupy second on the Group H log behind Ghana on goal difference. It’s early days yet in Rwanda’s journey however and it’s going to be some feat to get anything when hosting the Black Stars. Ghana beat Mauritius 7-1 to take a commanding early lead of the group and head coach Avram Grant has a plethora of top talent to choose from. He’s been given a selection headache with an injured midfield duo of Godfred Donsah and Emmanuel Agyemang, but the likes of Premier League hotshot Andre Ayew as well as Christian Atsu and Bernard Mensah, should see Ghana to victory. Back the Black Stars to win at 7/10.
Tanzania have endured a miserable run of late that has seen them winless since October last year. The Taifa Stars lost their opening AFCON qualification match against Egypt 3-0 and having not made an appearance in the continental competition since 1980, will probably be looking to emerge from this one with their pride intact. Nigeria coach Sunday Oliseh has named a strong squad to travel to East Africa with Chelsea pair John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses the only notable absentees. Oliseh has named Emmanuel Emenike, Kenneth Omeruo, Ahmed Musa, Godfrey Oboabona and Anthony Ujah in the squad, all of whom were favourites of former boss Stephen Keshi. This one will likely end in victory for the Super Eagles, put your money on it.
Saturday 05 September
Central African Republic 11/4
Congo DR 19/20
Neighbours CAR and Congo DR meet on Saturday with the hosts desperately needing something from this game. The minnows have experienced a torrid run of form with little game time due to conflict in the country, and haven’t claimed a win in almost exactly three years. They lost 4-0 to Angola last time out and come up against a Congo DR side that managed a hard fought 2-1 win over Madagascar. Yannick Bolasie is said to be attracting interest from top clubs following his fantastic form for Crystal Palace over the last two seasons but Congo DR will miss the presence of Youssouf Mulumbu in midfield. However, the away side are a tempting price at 19/20 and well worth the punt.
Benin began their AFCON qualification with a creditable 1-1 draw on the road with Equatorial Guinea. The West Africans made three appearances at the continental tournament in the 2000s but since 2010 have failed to book their place. They’ll feel they have chance to upset the visitors who have been a constant presence in the AFCON finals in recent times. Mali currently top Group C after a 2-0 win over South Sudan and have managed two wins and three draws from their last five internationals. West Ham’s Modibo Maiga is likely to lead the line with Bakary Sako of Crystal Palace in close support. This a tough one and I like the away win/draw Double Chance at 4/10.
With a squad sourced primarily at home and only a smattering of talent from Europe’s lower leagues, Chad are unlikely to make their first appearance in the 2017 AFCON tournament. Their woes are only compounded by the fact that they share the group with Nigeria and current opponents, Egypt. The Pharaohs beat Tanzania 3-0 to top Group G on goal difference and have won their last three on the trot, conceding only once. Roma’s Mohamed Salah in the star of the side and top national scorer in the squad to travel to Chad with 21 goals in 37 appearances. Back Egypt to take the three points.
Sierra Leone 62/10
Ivory Coast 4/10
Sierra Leone have lost eight of their last nine matches, drawing once. They went down 1-0 to Sudan in the opening qualifying match, conceding in 77th minute to give up a much needed point. They’ll host the current African champions this weekend in a mammoth ask for the West Africans, who haven’t qualified for the continental showpiece since 1996. Ivorian captain Yaya Toure will play no part in this fixture as he contemplates the future of his international career. Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote simply didn’t respond to the call-up, in typical rebellious Magpies fashion. Still, Ivory coast should have little problem disposing of Sierra Leone. Back the away side at 4/10.
Nambia conceded a penalty to lose 1-0 against Niger and were subsequently separated by penalties in their African Nations Championship two-legged tie with Zambia. Namibia welcomes Senegal to Windhoek knowing that it will take something special to provide any resistance to the confident and star-studded visitors. Diafra Sakho of West Ham earned a call-up to the side despite being left out of their AFCON squad at the beginning of the year. With pace and power in Mame Biram Diouf and Sadio Mane in attack, the Lions of Teranga should have no problems qualifying from this group. Senegal are tipped to pick up the win away from home.
Gambia forced a draw with South Africa in their last outing and will be well pleased with the point in a group they will likely find it impossible to emerge from. They’d experienced something of an upturn in form until losing both of the African Nations Championship legs against Senegal. Cameroon coach Volker Finke has recalled Sebastien Bassong and Joel Matip to the squad for this encounter, while also offering opportunities to the youthful Andre Onana and Felix Eboa Eboa in a policy of drafting in the next generation. Cameroon were made to wait until the ninetieth minute for a winner against Mauritania but haven’t lost in their last five matches. Take Cameroon to win at even money.
South Africa 9/10
Mauritania are in some decent form having beaten Sierra Leone in both legs of their African Nations Championship clash. In the past five matches, Les Mourabitounes have won three and suffered two losses, going down 1-0 at the hands of Gambia and Cameroon. Bafana Bafana will not be able to take Mauritania likely as coach Shakes Mashaba iterated. If the minnows were able to hold Cameroon for almost a full ninety minutes then it imperative that South Africa score first, and early. Bafana Bafana take a strong squad and are aware that they cannot afford to drop any more points if they hope to top the group. Take the away win at 9/10.
Sunday 06 September
The Crocodiles lost 2-1 on their travel to Ethiopia in a bid to qualify for their first ever AFCON tournament. Lesotho don’t have a glittering array of talent to choose from but have shown in recent times that they can be a tough nut to crack and generally don’t make scoring easy for the opposition. Despite losing in the AFCON 2015 quarter-finals to eventual winners Ivory Coast, Algeria are ranked and still considered the best team in Africa. Riyad Mahrez is setting the Premier League alight for Leicester City while the likes of Islam Slimani, Nabil Bentaleb, Sofiane Feghouli, Yacine Brahimi and Saphir Taider are all available. Back the Fennec Foxes to take the three points.