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Thrilling Africa Cup of Nations climax looms – posted by

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Bernard Parker (C) of South Africa and Mankwa Kofi (L) of Niger vie for the ball during an African Cup of Nations 2012 qualifying match, in Niamey, on September 4, 2011
Image by: SIA KAMBOU / Gallo Images

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Qualifying for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations is set for a thrilling climax, with 21 teams chasing 10 places in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon when the final fixtures are played in October.

Burkina Faso and Senegal clinched places at the weekend to join already qualified Botswana and Ivory Coast, while the co-hosts are automatic participants in the three-week African football showcase.

   Egypt, who won the last three tournaments in Cairo, Accra and Luanda, will be shock absentees after taking just two points from a  possible 15 and they used mainly Olympic players last Saturday when  losing in Sierra Leone.

   There could be plenty more top-10 casualties by the evening of October 9, with former champions Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Tunisia in varying degrees of difficulty.

   GROUP A    Fixtures: Liberia v Mali, Cape Verde Islands v Zimbabwe    Points: Mali 9, Zimbabwe 8, Cape Verde 7, Liberia 4)    An away win for Mali in a top-versus-bottom clash against Liberia will ensure French coach Alain Giresse of a second consecutive finals appearance after taking Gabon to the 2010 tournament. A win for Cape Verde or Zimbabwe will give them a chance of top spot.

   GROUP B    Nigeria v Guinea, Ethiopia v Madagascar    Guinea 13, Nigeria 10, Ethiopia 4, Madagascar 1    Guinea will top the table if they avoid defeat in Nigeria or score in a one-goal loss, while Nigeria need to win either 1-0 or by at least two goals to overtake the leaders since the opening round.

   GROUP C    Zambia v Libya, Mozambique v Comoros Islands    Zambia 12, Libya 11, Mozambique 4, Comoros 1    A draw will suffice for Zambia while Libya must collect maximum points to top the table. The runners-up will also have a good chance of making it as one of the best two second-place finishers.

   GROUP D    Algeria v Central African Republic, Morocco v Tanzania    Morocco and C.A.R. 8, Tanzania and Algeria 5    All four countries could make it and wins for Algeria and Tanzania would mean a four-way tie. However, the smart money will be on fast-improving Morocco winning, finishing first and returning  to the big time after missing the 2010 Cup of Nations.

   GROUP E    Mauritius v Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo v Cameroon    Senegal 13, Cameroon 8, DR Congo 7, Mauritius 0    Coaches may be tempted to experiment in meaningless fixtures as Senegal have clinched top spot while whoever comes second between Cameroon and DR Congo are unlikely to have sufficient points to be among the best runners-up.

   GROUP F    Gambia v Burkina Faso    Burkina Faso 9, Gambia and Namibia 3    Burkina Faso finished first on the pitch but face a boardroom battle in Cairo this month, with Namibia claiming Cameroon-born defender Herve Zengue is ineligible. Victory for Gambia would give them a slight chance of being among the leading runners-up.

   GROUP G    Egypt v Niger, South Africa v Sierra Leone    Niger 9, South Africa and Sierra Leone 8, Egypt 2    Niger cannot be caught if they win in Egypt, who will not even make the finals after winning the last three tournaments and a record seven overall. If the Nigeriens do not collect three points,  South Africa or Sierra Leone would go through with a victory.

   GROUP H    Ivory Coast v Burundi, Benin v Rwanda    Ivory Coast 15, Burundi and Benin 5, Rwanda 3    While most groups are poised for an exciting finale, this one is  done and dusted with Ivory Coast scoring 17 goals in five matches and in a class of their own, despite high expectations for Benin and Rwanda.

   GROUP I    Sudan v Ghana, Swaziland v Congo Brazzaville    Ghana and Sudan 13, Congo 3, Swaziland 0    Only a win for Sudan can dislodge 2010 World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana from top place, but whoever comes second seems likely to make it as well by filling one of the slots reserved for the best runners-up.

   GROUP J    Uganda v Kenya, Guinea Bissau v Angola    Uganda 10, Angola 9, Kenya 7, Guinea Bissau 3    Uganda will return to the Cup of Nations after a 33-year absence  if they win, but a draw in Kampala would bring Angola into the reckoning and a home defeat would give Kenya a chance of snatching top spot.

   GROUP K    Tunisia v Togo, Chad v Malawi    Botswana 17, Tunisia and Malawi 11, Togo 6, Chad 2    Botswana clinched a first finals appearance in mid-year, leaving  Tunisia and Malawi to fight for second place and automatic qualification because this is the only five-team pool. Malawi will qualify on the head-to-head rule if they match the Tunisia result.

   BEST RUNNERS-UP    The best two secure places but because Group F has only three teams after Mauritania withdrew, results against the bottom team in  the four-nation mini-leagues do not count. Points position with one  round left:    7 — Sudan (+3 goal difference), Libya (+2)    6 — Angola    5 — Central African Republic    4 — Nigeria (+3), South Africa (+1), Zimbabwe (level)    3 — Gambia    2 — Burundi (-1, scored two), Cameroon (-1, scored one)

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