CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Striker Samuel Eto‘o returns to the Cameroon side as they attempt to prevent elimination from the African Nations Cup at the hands of the island archipelago of Cape Verde in the final round of qualifiers this weekend.
Along with Cape Verde Islands, the Central African Republic are also on the verge of their first African Nations Cup qualification in a turn about in fortunes for two of the continent’s smallest countries from virtually no international competition just over 10 years ago.
Cape Verde Islands are 2-0 up against four-times winners Cameroon, who replaced their coach following their first-leg defeat.
Eto‘o, who had refused to play in the first match after labelling the set-up around the team amateurish, made himself available for Sunday’s game following a meeting with Cameroon’s prime minister.
“I am convinced that together, putting aside other interests for the country, we are capable, with God’s assistance, of giving Cameroon football the panache, and shine of old,” Eto‘o said last month.
The Central African Republic, who have jumped from 200th in the FIFA rankings in 2009 to 49 in the latest standings, have a 1-0 first-leg lead against Burkina Faso, having upset record winners Egypt in the first round of qualifiers.
Also in danger of missing the finals are champions Zambia, who take a 1-0 lead to Uganda on Saturday.
The upset winners in 2012 have looked unconvincing since, particularly in struggling to win the first leg of their qualifier against Uganda, who last played in the 1978 finals.
Ivory Coast have a 4-2 lead from an action-packed first leg against Senegal last month as they continue their quest to provide talismanic captain Didier Drogba with a first Nations Cup title.
Drogba has competed at four successive tournaments, and reached two finals, but has never won African football’s most coveted prize.
Aged 34, the 2013 tournament in South Africa represents his last chance.
“For me and my team mates, it would be a great trophy to have, a just reward for the last 10 years when we’ve worked so hard and tried to carry the country,” he said in an interview on the FIFA website this week.
But the Ivorians could yet slip up in Dakar on Saturday after conceding two away goals in the first leg to a strong Senegal side, whose attack will be lead by the Newcastle United pair of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.
Ethiopia, one of the African football’s founder members, seek to qualify for the first time in 31 years but are two goals down after losing 5-3 to neighbours Sudan in the last month.
Algeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Tunisia are well placed to advance to the finals.
Editing By Alison Wildey