BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
The qualification for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations comes to a close this week with 24 matches on the card. Already, 14 of the teams are already known while the remaining 10 slots will be filled by the end of the week.
Two of the matches on Sunday are crucial. They are the two Group L matches and both are crucial in the shaping of the 24-team format tournament in Egypt. Cape Verde takes on Lesotho while Tanzania host Uganda. Cape Verde Island will host Lesotho in Praïa in a must win encounter while Tanzania are in similar situation when they later in the day host Uganda.
The match in Dar Es Salaam holds great significance. Nigeria’s Emmanuel Amuneke may qualify Tanzania for the country’s first Africa Cup of Nations in 40 years since last qualifying for the 1980 edition in 1979.
Tanzania will be hoping to beat Uganda while expecting that Lesotho will not upset Cape Verde at home.
If the Tanzanian team beats the already qualified Uganda on Sunday in a Group L duel, it will be a major achievement as Taifa Stars of Tanzania will qualify.
Incidentally, it was in Nigeria in 1980 that Tanzania last played in the Africa Cup of Nation’s tournament. Now a Nigerian is set to get the country back into the tournament.
Already, Uganda has picked one of the two tickets of the group in the previous match day after a 1-0 defeat of Cape Verde.
The qualification was also a landmark for Uganda who also experienced a 38 year wait before qualifying two years ago. Before their qualification for the 2017 tournament, Uganda last qualified in 1978 when they beat Nigeria 2-1 in the semi-finals.
The Ugandans have now qualified for back-to-back tournaments for the first time since 1974 and 1976.
Tanzania football has been on the rise since Emmanuel Amuneke took charge in August last year and hopes to crown his efforts with a historic qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Another match that will be of interest is that of Libya hosting South Africa in Tunisia. Libya, forced to play home matches outside its territory owing to political instability may upstage initial Group E frontrunners, South Africa.
Should that happens, the Africa Cup of Nations enters a new phase as it will be the first in which all the five North African countries will be participating.
Already, Egypt, the hosts, qualified even before getting the hosting rights. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are also through to the finals.
The Super Eagles’ match with Seychelles is a a dead rubber as the Nigerian team are through while the visitors are already eliminated and therefore merely fulfilling the fixtures.
The match between Cameroon and the Comoros will decide which team joins already-qualified Morocco from Group B as Malawi are unable to go through.
In Group G all the four teams have got a chance of qualifying with DR Congo hosting Liberia while Congo travel to Harare to face Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe lead the group with eight points, one ahead of Liberia while DR Congo and Congo have six and five points respectively.
Burundi, Comoros and Lesotho will be chasing history by grabbing their places in Africa’s flagship competition for the first time, following in the footsteps of Madagascar and Mauritania.
Group K is wide open as there are three sides are battling for the two slots. Guinea Bissau and Namibia have eight points each with Mozambique on seven points.
Mozambique will make a trip to Guinea Bissau while Namibia travels to Zambia to determine which teams will qualify. Only Zambia is eliminated.
With Mali taking Group C’s first ticket, a fierce battle will take place when Burundi welcomes Gabon with the hosts needing just a draw to qualify for the first time.
Burundi are second with nine points while their opponents are two points adrift in third place. Another tough assignment is in Group I where Angola (nine points) and Burkina Faso (seven points) will slug it out for last ticket. Palancas Negras travel to face Botswana while Burkina Faso host Mauritania who have already qualified.
Also in a similar position in Group D where Algeria have already secured their place which leaves Benin (seven points) battling Gambia and Togo, with five points each, for the other slot.