Menas to test Pharaohs form
African champions, Egypt face unarguably their major test so far of the qualifying series of the Gabon-Equatorial Guinea 2012 Orange Africa Cup of Nations in a day two clash in Niamey against Niger this weekend.
The campaign to the journey of the 28th edition of the continental showpiece soccer event takes another turn this weekend with former winners Cote d’Ivoire, South Africa, Algeria and Tunisia facing chancy tests away from home.
 After managing a disappointing one all-draw with the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone in their opening Group G match last month, there is increasing pressure on coach Hassan Shehata and his charges to annex the maximum points at the expense of the Menas.
 Niger are not ranked amongst the ‘giants’ of African football, but the sterling performance of the team in the qualifying series for the Sudan 2011 African Nations Championship (CHAN) and the steady rise of local side AS FAN in the Orange CAF Confederation Cup is a fact that should serve some source worry to the Egyptian bench.
 Under the reign of Harouna Doula, the Menas have chalked some impressive feats including piping Nigeria’s Super Eagles to the CHAN slot, and Doula will be hoping to mastermind another major upset against the Pharaohs.
 Unlike Egypt, who boast of household names like Amr Zaki, Mohamed Aboutreika, Ahmed Fathy, Wael Gomaa amongst others, the Nigeriens will make do with the likes of Daouda Kassali, Daouda Kamilou and co. to achieve their first point of the campaign.
 Shehata, who has guided the Pharaohs to successive triumphs at the last three editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, envisages a tough outing against the Menas at the latter’s backyard.
“We have been following Niger lately. We watched some games of them,” said Shehata.
 Elsewhere, South Africa coach Pitso Mosimane will seek to justify his choice as the perfect man to guide the Bafana Bafana as they trek Freetown as guests Sierra Leone in the other Group G clash.
 In Group A, Mali will clash with Liberia in Bamako whilst Zimbabwe eyes their maiden victory of the campaign against Cape Verde in Harare.
 Islanders Madagascar face Ethiopia in a match of equals in Antananarivo, whereas Guinea host Nigeria in Conakry, both in Group B.
 Zambia’s Chipolopolo face a tricky test against the Greens of Libya in Tripoli in Group C, whilst Comoros seek a lift as they play host to Mozambique in Moroni, also in Group C.
 The Atlas Lions of Morocco will seek for grounding on their recent revival with a trip to Dar es Salaam to face the Taifa Stars in a Group D clash. The Moroccans who missed out on the last finals in Angola must survive against Taifa Stars to keep alive their ambitions.
Former winners, Algeria also face a tough test in Bangui against Central Africa Republic in the other Group D clash.
Senegal coach Amara Traore hopes to maintain his fine form as they face Mauritius in Dakar in a Group E whilst Javier Clemente gets a feel of the Cameroonian flavour when the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon host the Leopards of DR Congo in the same Group.
 In Group F, Burkina Faso makes their debut in the qualifying series with a home fixture against the Scorpions of Gambia in Ouagadougou.
 The Amavubis Stars of Rwanda will be hoping to make amends after their tumble during the day one matches as they play host to Les Ecuriels of Benin in Kigali in Group H and Ghanaian-bon coach Sellas Tetteh is poised to achieve that with his local-based players after banging the door at his foreign legion.
 Cote d’Ivoire coach Francois Zahoui has a depleted side following injuries to first-choice goalie Boubacar Barry, Guy Demel, Steve Gohour as they trek to Bujumbura to face Burundi in the other Group H clash.  
 Ghana’s Black Stars look set to maintain their winning spree as they engage the Desert Hawks of Sudan in Kumasi, whilst Congo squares Swaziland in Brazzaville, both in Group I.
 Veteran trainer Jacob Mulee aims for a bright start upon his return to the Harembee Stars bench as the battle old foes the Cranes of Uganda in Nairobi in Group J whilst Angola are at home to Guinea Bissau.
 The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia are aiming to bridge the gap with Group K leaders Botswana with their sights fixed on a convincing result on their trip to Lome to face the Togolese Hawks, so as Malawi who lock horns with Chad in Blantyre.
 Kinnah Phiri, coach of Malawian Flames insists nothing short of the maximum points will be detrimental to their ambitions and has urge his players to go all out for victory.
“This is a must win game, we should be looking at registering a convincing win and not just scrape through.”
 Fourteen teams will join co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for the final tournament in 2012.
Mali vs. Liberia [Group A]
Zimbabwe vs. Cape Verde [Group A]
Madagascar vs. Ethiopia [Group B]
Guinea vs. Nigeria [Group B*]
Libya vs. Zambia [Group C]
Comoros vs. Mozambique [Group C]
Tanzania vs. Morocco [Group D]
Central Africa Rep. vs. Algeria [Group D]
Senegal vs. Mauritius [Group E]
Cameroon vs. DR Congo [Group E]
Burkina Faso vs. Gambia [Group F]
Niger vs. Egypt [Group G]
Sierra Leone vs. South Africa [Group G]
Rwanda vs. Benin [Group H]
Burundi vs. Cote d'Ivoire [Group H]
Congo vs. Swaziland [Group I]
Ghana vs. Sudan [Group I]
Kenya vs. Uganda [Group J]
Angola vs. Guinea Bissau [Group J]
Malawi vs. Chad [Group K]
Togo vs. Tunisia [Group K]
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