Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Tue 15 July 2008

World Cup 2010 Qualifying Update (Part 1)

While the eyes of your average European soccer fan were squarely focused on Euro 2008 recently, other things were, remarkably, going on elsewhere in the world.

We speak, of course, about the qualifying competition for World Cup 2010 and this May and June has proven to be a busy period for every continent except Europe, so let's catch up with what's been going on, starting with...

Africa

Overview
It's currently Round 2 of 3 here, featuring 47 teams split into 12 groups. The winners of the groups, along with the eight best runners-up, will proceed to Round 3. That will leave 20 teams from which only five will progress to South Africa 2010.

News
It's hats off to Nigeria as they become the first team to book their place in the Third Round. They beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 away and 2-0 at home to maintain their 100% record and stay well clear of the chasing pack - including South Africa - at the top of the Group 4.

Six goals scored and none conceded means the Super Eagles will be one of the teams to beat in the next round, as will Cameroon. They picked up ten points from their first twelve in Group 1, remaining unbeaten against the Cape Verde Islands, Mauritius and Tanzania. The Islanders, ranked 85th in the world, look set to be one of the best runners-up when the dust settles and are currently only one point behind the Indomitable Lions.

Elsewhere, Burkina Faso are keeping Tunisia off the top of Group 9 with four straight victories, one of which was a 2-1 victory over the Carthage Eagles at the start of June. The Tunisians, however, are only a point behind and will be looking to overtake Burkina Faso with a win on September 6th when the two teams face each other again.

In Group 12, current African champions Egypt are level on points with the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of Malawi and Djibouti. The Egyptians scored a valuable 2-1 win over Congo DR in Cairo just over a month ago, but have since lost 1-0 away to Malawi. For The Leopards of Kinshasa, however, it's been maximum points ever since and they now occupy top spot on goal difference as a result.

Once again, irony plays its hand as the next game for both teams will see Egypt and Congo DR face each other in Kinshasa on September 7th. Out of the two, Congo DR will be the more keen to grab a win as their last match in the group against Malawi will undoubtedly be trickier than Egypt's against Djibouti. Either way, both teams should earn a place in the last round of qualifying as (at the very least) one of the best runners-up.

Guinea currently lead Group 2 on goal difference ahead of Kenya although both teams have already dropped five points from their first twelve and may have to keep an eye on Zimbabwe who are just two points behind them in third.

The Zimbabweans have already earned a draw against the leading two and will play Guinea in their next match on September 7th. Should Guinea lose, they run the risk of missing out on a top-two spot in the group as they'll have to beat Kenya in their final match while Zimbabwe play bottom-place Namibia.

Group 5 looks to be heading for an intriguing finish even though Ghana and Libya have clearly had the best starts with nine points taken from a possible twelve. Looming not far behind them are Gabon who have already beaten Ghana earlier in the campaign, but Gabon's remaining matches are against bottom-placed Lesotho and Libya.

Libya's only defeat came in the group opener against Ghana (3-0) and they'll play host to Ghana in the next Group 5 match on September 5th. If Libya lose to them again and Gabon beat Lesotho as is expected, it'll be a straight fight for the second place in the group between Gabon and Libya on October 11th.

Angola's star may well be on the wane as they only managed to pick up one point from a possible six in their last two games. It leaves the Angolans second in Group 3 behind Benin - yes, BENIN - and level on points with third-placed Uganda.

Benin admittedly have a tough pair of final games to come against Angola and Uganda having already waltzed past group make-weights Niger in two games already, and their place at the top of the group looks decidedly uncertain. Angola travel to Benin in their next game having beaten them at home back at the start of June, and with a home tie against Niger set to close their campaign, Uganda could yet sneak into second spot to usurp Benin's lofty aspirations.

While Ivory Coast enjoy a comfortable three point lead over Botswana at the top of Group 7, Morocco are under pressure to keep their top billing in Group 8. The mighty minnows of Rwanda are just two goals behind them and are level on points with an easy away match against Mauritania next on the agenda. Morocco, however, lost 3-1 away to Rwanda during June before reversing the result in a 2-0 win in Casablanca a week later.

Key to who goes through in this group, then, is Ethiopia who have only so far managed to pick up a couple of wins against Mauritania. A victory over Morocco or Rwanda is perhaps too much to ask for, but the amount of goals they can prevent against both teams will no doubt have an effect on what will surely be a very important 'goal difference' column at the end of the campaign.

Coming up in Part 2 of our World Cup Update... all the action from South America...

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