Zambia's captain Christopher Katongo kisses the African Cup of Nations trophy as Gabon President Ali Bongo, right, applauds, after Zambia beat Ivory Coast in the tournament final soccer match at Stade de l'Amitie in Libreville, Gabon Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

African champions Zambia are already struggling in their bid to reach the 2014 World Cup, after losing their opening qualifier 2-0 in Sudan.

The Chipolopolo host a Ghana team on Saturday, who will be out for revenge having lost to Zambia in the semi-finals of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

Elsewhere, South Africa will be looking to bounce back after coach Pitso Mosimane lost his job following the 1-1 home draw against Ethiopia.

South Africa caretaker coach Steve Komphela says he is highly optimistic that Bafana Bafana can put a difficult week behind them when taking on Botswana in Gaborone on Saturday.
South Africa interim coach Steve Komphela

Interim coach Steve Komphela is in confident mood despite the challenges facing South Africa

Komphela was assistant coach this time a week ago but was elevated to his current role after Pitso Mosimane left his job in the wake of Sunday’s 1-1 home draw at home to Ethiopia.

That left the two sides second in Group A, behind surprise leaders Central African Republic, who play in Addis Ababa on Sunday.

Despite the fact that South Africa have not won a match since August, and have scored just six goals in their last seven qualifiers, former national captain Komphela believes his side can deliver this weekend.
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“We are very good technically and play attractive football”

Kelly Youga Central African Republic defender

“It wasn’t an easy week to go through – but it is clear that we quickly need to move forward,” he said on Friday.

“I have seen a relaxed mood, a focussed team and the statements they make are that it is high time we start winning.

“I am highly optimistic about all the challenges that are facing us. I am sure we will be ready.”

Meanwhile, Central African Republic are looking to build on their first World Cup qualifying win in history, having beaten Botswana 2-0 last Saturday.

“We have to give Ethiopia respect because they drew in South Africa at the weekend,” defender Kelly Youga told BBC Sport.

“But we are very good technically and play attractive football, so we will see.”

Both Cape Verde and 2012 Africa Cup of Nations co-hosts Equatorial Guinea will look to use home advantage to earn their first points of the Group B campaign.
Rodney Strasser

Strasser’s potential return will boost Sierra Leone as they face the Nations Cup co-hosts in Malabo

On Saturday, Cape Verde, who lost 2-1 in Sierra Leone last weekend, host a Tunisian side who conceded an early goal before recovering to defeat Equatorial Guinea 3-1.

The Carthage Eagles are the only side in the group to have ever contested a World Cup finals, becoming the first African team to win a game at the tournament in 1978 even though they have failed to win a game in their three visits since.

They will be without Youssef Msakni (injured) and Jamel Saihi (getting married) for a game against a side who are traditionally strong at home, with Cape Verde having won five of their last six qualifiers.

Meanwhile, Sierra Leone have had to undertake a tortuous journey to arrive in Malabo ahead of their clash against Equatorial Guinea, which is also on Saturday.

The Leone Stars have flown via Liberia, The Gambia, Ghana and Togo to reach the Equatoguinean capital.

Nonetheless, captain Ibrahim Kargbo believes his side, buoyed by the news that Rodney Strasser has travelled to Malabo after recovering from injury, can continue its good qualifying form of recent times.

“We have prepared so well as Equatorial Guinea are not an easy side. We watched them during the Nations Cup and they are a good team because they have so many naturalised players – it is not going to be an easy game,” he told BBC Sport.

“This is a very important match for us and for our World Cup qualification because if we beat Equatorial Guinea, or take a point there, it will be very good for us. I think this game is going to tell us if we are going to make it to the World Cup or not.”

Ivory Coast’s preparations for a difficult-looking clash in Morocco have been boosted by the news that midfielder Yaya Toure has been passed fit to play.
Manchester City’s Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure

Yaya Toure has not played since limping off in the Premier League title decider against QPR

The Manchester City star has not played since limping off with a hamstring strain in the last game of the Premier League season, which Toure’s side won to clinch the English title.

Toure missed last week’s 2-0 win over Tanzania in Abidjan, which marked a first game in charge for French coach Sabri Lamouchi, who had been appointed just five days earlier.

Even though playmaker Younes Belhanda will be missing for a Morocco side that drew their opening game 1-1 in The Gambia, defender Kolo Toure is expecting a tricky battle in Marrakech.

“Morocco is going to be a really tough game but we have to see if we can go there and come back with a good result,” he told BBC Sport. “Lamouchi wants us to play in a certain way and we are trying to do that.”

The clash presents a battle between an Ivorian side bidding to reach its third World Cup tournament, while Morocco have been finalists on four separate occasions.

Elsewhere, Tanzania are hoping that two players who missed their opening defeat in Ivory Coast may recover in time for Sunday’s game at home to The Gambia.

Haruna Moshi and striker Thomas Ulimwengu have trained this week and could start as Tanzania play their first World Cup qualifier at home since losing 1-0 to Chad in the first round last November.

New African champions Zambia are hoping that the official opening of a new 40,000-capacity stadium in Ndola can kick-start their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign against Ghana on Saturday.
The new Ndola stadium

A full house is expected at the new 40,000-capacity Ndola Stadium when Zambia host Ghana

The Chipolopolo lost their first competitive match since winning this year’s Africa Cup of Nations final when going down 2-0 in Sudan.

One of Zambia’s Nations Cup stars, Rainford Kalaba, was a doubt for the match after picking up an injury in Khartoum but is now in line to start a game which pits semi-final opponents at the 2012 finals together again.

Nonetheless, the build-up to the high-profile game has been affected by a row between coach Herve Renard and the federation over poor preparations for the Sudan game as well as money.

“It’s an administrative issue,” Zambia FA president Kalusha Bwalya told BBC Sport, saying that the Frenchman has looked ‘happy and positive’ this week.

The 1988 African Footballer of the Year is also delighted that a new stadium is opening in the Copperbelt province, which he describes as ‘football mad’.

“Zambian football fans are looking forward to the opening and the fact that it is their first time to see the African champions in action (on home soil) gives it greater significance.”

Ghana go into the game with a full squad to choose from and confidence high after beating Lesotho 7-0 in their opening qualifier.

“We provided everything the squad needed to make them ready to take on the Zambians and we are positive going into the game,” said Ghana FA president Kwesi Nyantakyi after the Black Stars prepared for the game in Johannesburg.

On Sunday, Lesotho host a Sudan side who believe World Cup qualification is a possibility after their fine start.

“We have an important match in Lesotho and want six points from our opening two matches,” Sudan coach Mazda told BBC Sport.

“We are fighting for World Cup qualification now but have to win all our games at home and fight outside.”

Niger’s preparations for their match in Congo on Saturday were thrown into disarray in midweek when French coach Rolland Courbis walked away from his post.
French coach Rolland Courbis

French coach Rolland Courbis left Niger in the lurch after walking out of the squad in midweek

Courbis, who took charge of Niger one match into their Africa Cup of Nations campaign, has said he will not be returning to the side.

“I got angry on several occasions about things that I found intolerable,” he told French media. “I preferred to stop and leave on good terms and maintaining friendly relations.”

Meanwhile, Congo will hope to use home advantage effectively, with the Red Devils having won all three of their group qualifiers when failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

With both opening games having ended in goalless draws, both Burkina Faso and Gabon will be looking for their opening goals when they meet in Libreville.

Gabon co-hosted this year’s Africa Cup of Nations and reached the quarter-finals before losing against Mali.

The match will prove of significance for coach Paulo Duarte, who led Burkina Faso at this year’s Nations Cup but is charged with guiding his new side Gabon against the Stallions.

Elsewhere, Nigeria travel to Malawi to face a confident Flames side, Algeria look to continue their good form in Mali while Uganda host Senegal in another intriguing clash.

Malawi coach Kinnah Phiri believes his side can cause an upset when hosting Nigeria on Saturday.

The Flames opened their group campaign with a goalless draw in Kenya on Saturday, while the Super Eagles had to wait until the 80th minute before finding a way past a stubborn Namibia side.
Namibia coach Bernard Kaanjuka

Namibia coach Bernard Kaanjuka has urged fans to get behind his team as the Warriors host Kenya

Nigeria are unbeaten in World Cup qualifying since losing in Angola in 2004, but Phiri is unimpressed by the current squad.

“Nigeria have always been a better side on paper but in reality, I think this is just an ordinary Super Eagles at the moment,” the coach told BBC Sport.

“We have to attack throughout – and we have to push the Nigerians to the limit and get a quick goal that can unsettle them.”

Phiri says striker Atusaye Nyondo, who had to come off against the Harambee Stars, has recovered full fitness, while the Super Eagles are also at full strength.

Ikechukwu Uche was forced to sit out most of Thursday’s training in Abuja after has recovered, while Rangers winger Sone Aluko has recovered from a stomach bug that ruled him out of the Namibia clash.

“All we have to do is work and make corrections from the game against Namibia and that is it,” coach Stephen Keshi told BBC Sport.

Elsewhere, Namibia host Kenya as both sides look for their first group win in Windhoek on Saturday.

Namibia coach Bernard Kaanjuka, whose side displayed valiant defence in their opening defeat in Calabar, has called on the nation to rally behind his side in their bid for an unlikely World Cup qualification.

“This group is not going to be easy and so we need to be motivated by our people – pack the stadium please,” the coach told the Namibian FA website.

The same website reported that a trio of key players – Henrico Botes, Lazarus Kaimbi and Rudolf Bester – have returned to the squad, with Jerome Louis missing through injury.

Guinea captain Kamil Zayatte believes the Syli Nationale can build on their opening day win in Zimbabwe by beating Egypt this weekend.
Zimbabwe’s national team

Zimbabwe’s preparations for Sunday’s game in the Mozambican capital have been chaotic

Zayatte meet the Pharaohs in a top-of-the-table clash after the Egyptians beat Mozambique 2-0 last Friday.

“We have a good team and they also have a good team but we are going to push them to make some mistakes,” he told BBC Sport.

Neither side has conceded a goal in the group so far, after Guinea also kept a clean sheet when winning 1-0 in Harare.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s trip to Mozambique has been affected by administrative turmoil, with the team only leaving on Friday after spending Thursday at the airport waiting for flight tickets that never came.

On Wednesday, the team missed a training session after being denied access to the national stadium.

“We believe that some people are being sponsored to derail the coaching team, people who will celebrate defeat for the team,” said Zifa chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze.

Meanwhile, Mozambique are at full strength for the Maputo clash.

Mali’s football federation has admitted that the team’s chances of winning their ‘home’ match against Algeria have been weakened by having to play the game in neutral Ouagadougou.
Mali’s team celebrate third place at the Nations Cup with coach Alain Giresse

Mali finished third at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations but have since lost coach Alain Giresse

The game was moved to the capital of Burkina Faso given the recent political problems in Mali following the March coup.

“It’s a huge disadvantage to us and we would have preferred to play at home,” FMF official Boubacar Thiam told BBC Sport.

Meanwhile, Algeria striker Ryad Boudebouz is wary of meeting a side that finished third at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

The Eagles have since changed coaches, with Amadou Pathe Diallo replacing Frenchman Alain Giresse, while Algeria are led by Vahid Halilhodzic as they seek a second World Cup qualification in a row.

They opened their group campaign when thumping Rwanda 4-0 on Saturday.

“The Malians are capable of knocking the ball around a bit more than the other two teams,” Boudebouz told

“We’ll have to put pressure on them so they can’t develop their usual style of play, and so we can get a result.”

Elsewhere, Rwanda host a Benin side who rocketed up this week’s Fifa rankings following their 1-0 win over Mali on the opening day.

“”No one gave Togo or Angola any chance of making it to the 2006 World Cup, so why not Benin in 2014?” Razak Omotoyossi told BBC Sport.

This is the only group to feature three former World Cup finalists, in the shape of Cameroon, Togo and DR Congo (as Zaire in 1974).
Dieumerci Mbokani of DR Congo

Dieumerci Mbokani has returned to the DR Congo squad for the first time in 14 months

The fourth team in the group, Libya, have been forced to play their home tie against the Indomitable Lions in neutral Tunisia because of instability back home.

The match will be played behind closed doors on the orders of local authorities over security concerns.

The Libyans are playing under Abdul-Hafeedh Arbeesh, who took charge of the side after Brazilian Marco Paqueta left after the Africa Cup of Nations.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Enoh Eyong will miss not only this weekend’s tie but the Nations Cup qualifier at home to Guinea-Bissau later in the month as well.

The news will be a blow to Indomitable Lions coach Dennis Lavagne, who signed a ‘new’ contract this week.

Elsewhere, DR Congo have been buoyed by the return of Dieumerci Mbokani, whose 14-month exile has finally ended.

“It is a formidable news for me, for the team and everyone,” said DR Congo coach Claude LeRoy.

Senegal’s bid to reach their second World Cup, and first since 2002, continues in Uganda this week under stand-in coach Joseph Koto.
Senegal coach Joseph Koto

Senegal coach Joseph Koto started his first competitive match with a win at home to Liberia

The Cranes began their group campaign in fine style, scoring a late equaliser to grab an important point in Angola.

Led by new captain Papiss Demba Cisse, the Teranga Lions defeated Liberia 3-1 on the opening day as they tried to put memories of the disastrous Nations Cup behind them.

Uganda coach Bobby Williamson refused to be drawn on the high-profile nature of Senegal match, saying simply that he tries “to treat every game the same.”

Liberia, meanwhile, host an Angolan side who are changing under coach Romeu Filemon.

“Only at the end of this qualifiers will one be able to say if it was the right thing to do or not, but in my humble and honest opinion we needed to do this because if not now, when?” he said after the 1-1 draw at home to Uganda.

Angola qualified for the 2006 World Cup against many expectations and travel to Monrovia for a match where the home side have struggled to impress in recent years.

Nonetheless, new coach Kaetu Smith has said he will try to play attractive football as he tries to steer the Lone Star into uncharted territory.

“We have a bright future,” he told BBC Sport this week. “We made defensive errors (against Senegal) and we have to correct those, but we want to continue to play beautiful football.”