Seven countries fight for Afcon berths

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There are still three Nations Cup places to be decided, with the remaining four games. Egypt, Burundi, Botswana, Mali, Togo, Benin and Uganda all have chances of qualifying.

The Pharaohs occupy the top spot of Group Two on nine points, two more than the Zebras, who will edge closer to their first ever finals of the Africa Cup Nations should the former falter at home.

Burundi’s Sparrows will also make its debut at the biennial fiesta with a win in Mauritania in the other game, hoping that the Pharaohs slump to the Zebras.

The Pharaohs will go through with just a point and are highly favoured to send Botswana packing empty even with the absence of some key players.

Coach Hassan Shehata will be without captain Ahmed Hassan, out on suspension; the injured duo of Ahmed Hossam “Mido” and Mohammed Barakat, while Al Ahly playmaker Mohammed Abou Treika is doubtful after receiving a knock in last Sunday’s MTN-CAF Champions League semi-final clash with Libya’s Al Ittihad.

But with Germany-based striker Mohammed Zidan, veteran Amr Zaki and Ahly striker Emad Meteb, the Pharaohs have what it takes to hand the Zebras a resounding defeat in their first ever clash at the Cairo International Stadium come Saturday.

In Lome on Friday, old foes “The Hawks” of Togo and the “Eagles” of Mali will renew their rivalry in the decisive Group Nine clash, in a repeat of the joint 2006 Africa Cup of Nations and Fifa World Cup qualifier, which Mali won by a lone goal.

The two teams share top spot on nine points each, and any slip by the two will see the Squirrels of Benin toppling them should they manage a win in Freetown against Sierra Leone.

This is the fourth meeting between the two sides in less than three years, and the star-studded Malians need to break the jinx to realise their position among the continent’s elite.

Stephen Keshi’s boys have the better of the last four outings involving the two sides, and victory will secure them their seventh ACN appearance.

Benin, who qualified for their first ever African Cup of Nations in the last two editions, Tunisia 2004, will grab the last of the second best slots ahead of Uganda with a wider margin victory against Sierra Leone.

The 12 teams that have booked their place already, along with hosts Ghana, are Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Cameroon, Angola, Senegal, Guinea, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and Morocco.

This weekend’s fixtures are:Group 9SaturdayTogo v MaliSierra Leone v Benin

Group 2SundayEgypt v Botswana Mauritania v Burundi

Meanwhile, Ghana will round-up their Nations Cup preparations with the hosting of a four-nation tournament in November.

Guinea, Benin and the United Arab Emirates will line up alongside the Black Stars.

The four-day competition, which begins on 17 November, will be played in Accra and Kumasi.