Johannesburg – Cameroon and Morocco bank on new coaches this weekend to undo first-leg damage in final round qualifiers for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have turned to 2000 Sydney Olympics gold medal coach Jean-Paul Akono and the Atlas Lions of Morocco to 2011 CAF Confederation Cup title winner Rachid Taoussi.
Akono and Taoussi must wipe out 2-0 deficits against the Cape Verde Islands and Mozambique respectively, and hope home advantage in Yaounde and Marrakech can tilt the balance toward two former African champions.
Frenchman Denis Lavagne was sacked after Cameroon lost 2-0 in Praia and a similar fate befell multi-title-winning Belgian Eric Gerets after Morocco slumped 2-0 in Maputo.
A boost for Akono is the return of star Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o, who boycotted the first leg last month after an eight-month suspension because he did not want to be part of an “amateurish, poorly managed” national squad.
Cameroon missed the 2012 Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea having come a distant second behind group winners Senegal, and failure to make it to South Africa next January would be humiliating.
Akono is hoping four-time African Footballer of the Year Eto'o can bring fire to an attack that has managed just four goals in five World Cup and Cup of Nations qualifiers this year.
Cape Verde, a Portuguese-speaking archipelago off the coast of Senegal with a population of less than 500,000, have never reached the Cup of Nations, but recent good results have seen them ranked 10 this month in Africa.
Taoussi does not have an Eto'o-type goal poacher to rely on, and probably faces a harder task than Akono with Morocco also flopping at the 2012 Cup of Nations where defeats by Tunisia and Gabon meant a first round exit.
After needing a penalty shootout to oust lowly Tanzania, little was expected of a Mozambican squad coached by German Gert Engels, but Almiro Lobo and Elias 'Dominguez' Pelembe scored to spur wild countrywide celebrations.
The key to shock qualification for Cape Verde and Mozambique could lie in snatching an away goal, which would leave 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2002 champions Cameroon and 1976 winners Morocco needing four goals to survive.
Title holders Zambia, who shocked Ivory Coast on penalties in Libreville last February to conquer Africa for the first time, take only a 1-0 lead over Uganda to Kampala despite having almost complete dominance of the first encounter.
Injured midfield dynamo Rainford Kalaba is out of the Zambia squad for the intriguing Nelson Mandela stadium showdown while Uganda can call on fit-again strikers Geoffrey Massa and Brian Umony.
Ivory Coast, runners-up twice in the last four Cup of Nations after starting each one as favourites, hold a 4-2 advantage over Senegal after coming from behind twice in Abidjan.
The Didier Drogba-skippered Elephants will miss striker Salomon Kalou, who is on the comeback trail after an injury, and club-less defender Jean-Jacques Gosso Gosso was also left out of the squad for Dakar.
Media rumours that Senegal might recall 2002 World Cup striker El Hadji Diouf proved unfounded and coach Joseph Koto must hope Newcastle strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse can deliver the goals.
Nigeria, another shock absentee from the 2012 tournament, should make it this time after forcing a 2-2 draw in Liberia with Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel poised for a first start under coach Stephen Keshi.
Ghana are well placed thanks to a 2-0 home win over Malawi, Zimbabwe travel to Angola with a 3-1 lead, and giant-killers Central African Republic bring a 1-0 advantage to Burkina Faso as they chase a maiden Cup appearance.
The rapidly improving Wild Beasts eliminated record seven-time champions Egypt in the previous round – arguably the biggest shock since qualifying was introduced five decades ago.
Gabon and Equatorial Guinea reached the last eight when they were co-hosts this year, but both are in danger of missing the 2013 tournament after a 1-1 home draw with Togo and a 4-0 hiding in the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively. – Sapa-AFP