AFCON Qualifying Preview: Crunch time for Egypt

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Seven-time Africa Cup of Nations winners Egypt are facing a make-or-break match to qualify for next year's staging as they face Botswana.

The North African giants find themselves bottom of Group G, six points behind joint leaders Senegal and Tunisia, and with the same record as lowly Botswana who they travel to face on Friday night: played two, lost two and a minus-three goal difference.

Anything but a win will pile pressure on Egypt coach Shawky Gharib who has been told by the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) president Gamal Allam that he will be fired if he cannot guide his team to the tournament in Morocco.

"The national team's failures are the responsibility of its technical staff. We will hire a foreign manager if Gharib fails to take the team to Morocco," Allam declared last week.

Egypt's plight is not helped by four players missing due to injury: Al Ahly goalkeeper Sherif Ekramy, Zamalek winger Hazem Emam, Smouha attacker Hany El Egiazy and Hull City winger Ahmed Elmohamady.

"I know that we are not in a good situation after losing the first two matches, but we still have hope to qualify. We will do our best in the next matches," Gharib added.

Another pedigree team who find themselves languishing bottom of their group are Angola. 

AFCON quarter-finalists in 2010, Angola travel to Lesotho desperate for their first points in Group C after an away defeat to Gabon and a 3-0 home thumping at Burkino Faso's hands.

However, coach Romeu Filemon will have to unlock his squad's goal scoring potential after a measly return of one goal in their last four matches.

In Group F, surprise package and leaders Cape Verde Islands go to Mozambique looking for a victory which could put them on the brink of assuring the tiny island nation of their first ever appearance at the tournament. In the other Group F game, 2012 champions Zambia are hunting a first win of the phase away to Niger to get their first qualification victory following a shock loss to Cape Verde and poor 0-0 draw with Mozambique.

Three giants of African football are fighting it out in Group D as leaders Cameroon also look to maintain a 100 per cent record against winless Sierra Leone in Freetown. 

Third-placed Ivory Coast are looking to bounce back against Democratic Republic of Congo after their 4-1 humbling by Cameroon in the previous round. Anything less than a draw will leave Herve Renard's men adrift of the group's pacesetters and under pressure in their remaining matches.

A big day in Group A sees South Africa face surprise leaders Congo who have already beaten Nigeria away and Sudan at home. 

The game will be played in Pointe Noire, the scene of a notoriously bruising encounter in a 1997 World Cup qualifying match that still rankles with the South Africans who lost 2-0 that day. The local media has also expressed concerns over the artificial pitch in Congo but Bafana Bafana captain and goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa has moved to allay those fears.

"We are all well prepared for Congo and we will not be affected by the artificial surface. The way we play will remain the same," said Meyiwa.

"At Orlando Pirates, we played on a similar surface during the CAF Champions League. It is likely to be the same."

In the other Group A game, Nigeria travel to Sudan with only one point from their two group games so far.

In Group E, second-placed Ghana travel to Guinea looking to put some daylight between them and the team in third, while table-toppers Uganda welcome winless Togo to the Mandela National Stadium in Kampala looking for another three points. 

Group B leaders Algeria travel to second-placed Mali knowing a win will virtually assure their qualification and leave their opponents, Malawi and winless Ethiopia fighting it out for the last remaining automatic spot.