ABUJA, Nigeria, November 14 – African champions Nigeria are expected to seal their place at next year’s World Cup this weekend but Cameroon and the Ivory Coast face an uphill battle against Tunisia and Senegal.
Nigeria go into Saturday’s return fixture with Ethiopia 2-1 up from the first leg in Addis Ababa, while Cameroon and Tunisia played out a goalless draw in Tunis and Ivory Coast beat Senegal 3-1 at home.
The Super Eagles needed second-half goals from striker Emmanuel Emenike and had to draw on all their experience to win in the Ethiopian capital.
The result was Nigeria’s fifth victory over Ethiopia in eight encounters — and potentially the most crucial — boosting confidence for the fixture in the southern coastal city of Calabar.
“We will win for the country and qualify for the World Cup,” vowed Liverpool forward Victor Moses, who this week made the shortlist for the BBC African Footballer of the Year award.
“We’re not under pressure and so we will settle down, play our football and win,” added Lokomotiv Moscow forward Obinna Nsofor.
Real Betis midfielder Nosa Igiebor and Uche Nwofor, from Dutch club Heerenveen, have dropped out of the squad because of injury.
But coach Stephen Keshi has recalled Chelsea defender Kenneth Omeruo, Gabriel Reuben from Scottish club Kilmarnock, and US-based striker Bright Dike after long-term injuries.
Ethiopia have been boosted by the return of South Africa-based striker Getaneh Kebede, who scored four goals in the qualifiers but missed the first leg with an ankle injury.
Egypt-based striker Saladin Said has vowed they will fight till the end, despite the apparent disadvantage.
“Nigeria might have the upper hand by virtue of the away goal but I believe it is not over until the 90 minutes,” he said.
“I am happy Getaneh is back and hopefully we can both help our beloved team to score the important goals in Calabar.”
The Ivory Coast’s win in Abidjan was a big step towards their third World Cup appearance and Saturday’s return leg will be played in Casablanca, Morocco.
The switch to a neutral ground follows a riot last year during qualifying for this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
The Elephants will be without defenders Arthur Boka and Siaka Tiene, who are both injured, as well as Newcastle midfielder Chieck Tiote, who is suspended.
The players are each on a bonus of $18,000 (13,000 euros) to qualify for Brazil.
In a surprise move, Senegal have dropped Demba Ba for this clash, amid suggestions of differences between the Chelsea striker and French coach Alain Giresse.
But former France international Giresse maintained they can still cause an upset after Papiss Cisse grabbed a late away goal.
“We have to believe. We will go there with the idea of making up the two-goal deficit against the Elephants,” he said.
On Sunday, Cameroon, who have made it to the finals six times, host Tunisia in Yaounde with the scores level in no small part because of several crucial saves from goalkeeper Charles Itandje.
Cameroon will again be led by Samuel Eto’o, who is finding his feet in the English Premier League with Chelsea after being off-loaded by Russian Premier League outfit Anzhi Makhachkala.
Tunisia’s Dutch coach Ruud Krol said he expected the Indomitable Lions to attack in contrast to their mainly defensive approach in the first game.
“We played to score while trying not to concede a goal. In Cameroon, we will play to keep a clean sheet while trying to score,” said Krol, who will manage Tunisian club CS Sfaxien in a CAF Confederation Cup final next weekend.