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CRUNCH TIME: 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers reach final stretch

South African football correspondent Wright Mbongo previews this coming week's massive round of final qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations.

  The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers will continue tomorrow, with match-day 5 and 6 to be completed this coming weekend and next week.

By Wednesday, the 19th of November midnight, we will know who has made it or failed to reach the Africa's premier football tournament.

The sad news is that next year's hosts Morocco have pulled out due to the deadly Ebola virus, which has killed almost 5,000 people in West Africa.

CAF, the governing body of African football, says there are several nations interested in hosting the tournament, with Ghana, Nigeria, and Egypt among the favourites to step-in after Morocco's withdrawal. South Africa were most favoured, but SAFA president Danny Jordaan has confirmed that there is no way the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts will host the tournament after hosting last year (2013).

Across the seven groups, the top two teams out of four will qualify for the finals, which means we will have 14 teams plus the hosts. To fill the last space to make it 16 teams, the best team that finishes 3rd will join the other 15 in the finals.

In Group A, South Africa, who haven't qualified for the finals via qualification since 2008, lead their group with 8 points, and a win against last placed Sudan this upcoming Saturday will see Bafana Bafana (The Boys) book their spot with a game to spare. But they head into this crucial encounter shattered following the death of goalkeeper and skipper Senzo Meyiwa, who was shot in a house robbery two weeks ago.

The other teams in this group are current holders Nigeria and rejuvenated Congo Brazzaville. The two sides, who are likely to battle for second-place to be on the safe side, will collide in Pointe-Noire on Saturday. The reverse fixture on match-day 1, saw the Red Devils stun the champions and beat them 3-2 in their own backyard. Congo are second with 7 points, and they are 3 points richer than the third placed Super Eagles.

In Group B, Algeria, the highest ranked team in the continent, will play the final two qualifiers against Ethiopia and Mali for pride, as the Desert Foxes have already booked a place in the finals.

But their opponents, Ethiopia, who almost made it to 2014 FIFA World Cup via the play-offs, needs nothing less than a win to stand any chance of making it to the tournament for the second successive time. The Walias are third in the standings with three points, and trail second-placed Mali by the same number of points, which travel to troubled Malawi on Saturday as well.

Malawi, prop up the standings with 3 points, just goal difference forces them below Ethiopia. The Flames, who were last seen in AFCON back in 2010, will hope to avenge Mali after going down 2-0 at the hands of the Eagles in September before redeeming themselves by defeating Ethiopia 3-2 a few days later.

In Group C, things are a bit tight, as three teams can still finish on top of the tree. 2012 joint-hosts Gabon lead the way with 8 points after four games, and visit third-placed Angola who are desperate for points following slow start. All eyes in Gabon will be on German-based striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who plays for 2013 Uefa Champions League finalist Borussia Dortmund.

The other match in the Group sees minors Lesotho welcome last-year's finalist Burkina Faso in the capital city of the country, Maseru, with hope of upsetting the powerhouse and creating a slim chance of reaching the tournament for the first time in history. The Crocodiles are placed bottom of the standing with a two points and trail second-placed Burkina Faso by 5 points with two games to go.

In Group D, one of the top sides will miss out unless that team finishes as the best third placed side in qualifiers. Cameroon, who will face second-place DR Congo on Saturday, top the pile with 10 points and four points separates the two top sides. If the Indomitable Lions win at home on Saturday, they will surely qualify with a game to spare.

The other team in the group is Ivory Coast, who have been far from impressive since the qualifiers commenced. The Elephants look toothless in attack without the services of veteran striker Didier Drogba, who is currently on the books of English giants Chelsea.

Herve Renard, who guided Zambia to the title in 2012, is having the worst possible start in his new position, and he will hope his side beat Sierra Leone on Friday and DR Congo go down to Cameroon a day later so that they can jump to second-place with 9 points and finish the job when they seek revenge against Cameroon at home next week on the 19th of November.

In Group E, Ghana lead the way with 8 points despite having a slow start. The Black Stars will hope lightning doesn't strike twice as they visit a Uganda side that almost beat them in the reverse match. They had to settle for a draw after coming from behind and had to thank the frame of the goal after it came to their rescue late on in the match in Kumasi.

Uganda still boast a chance of qualifying as they are 3rd on the log with four points and just two points adrift of second-placed Togo, who beat the Cranes of Uganda twice in a row to kick-start their campaign. The Sparrow Hawks, who are lead by Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor, will hope to step closer to qualifying when they welcome rock-bottom Guinea in the city of Lome on Saturday.

Group F is one of the tightest groups so far in the journey of qualifiers, as all teams can still qualify for the finals. Cape Verde, the surprise package, are currently on top of the pile with 9 points, and will hope to cement 1st place as they have already qualified with two games to go when they face Niger on Saturday.

The other game will see Zambia and Mozambique, who are both tight on five points, battle for at least second-place when they meet in Maputo. A win for either of the two sides on Saturday, will see one needing just a draw to qualify in the last match on Wednesday.

In the last group which is Group G, Tunisia are on the brink of qualifying, so is Senegal, but Egypt will also fancy themselves following back-to-back victories over Botswana, who are surely out of the running. Tunisia lead the way with 10 points after four games, and a win on Friday at embarrassing Botswana, will see the 2004 champions qualify for AFCON on the trot since 1994.

In Cairo in Egypt, the Pharaohs, who won the tournament three times in a row between 2006 and 2010, will hope to see off Botswana and move on 9 points and sit second on the log ahead of the crucial encounter against Tunisia on match-day 6. A win for Senegal who are currently 2nd with 7 points, will see Egypt join Botswana in the elimination bracket with one more game to be played.

So it's now crunch time for African football fans as we all wait to see who will join Cape Verde and Algeria for next year's finals.

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