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Cameroon set to qualify for World Cup finals

© Reuters Limited 2001

By Mark Gleeson

JOHANNESBURG, June 27 (Reuters) - Cameroon could on Friday become the first country to qualify for next year's World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea, without even kicking a ball. A defeat for their closest rivals Angola in their World Cup qualifier away to Libya in Tripoli would mean qualification for Cameroon and their fifth finals appearance. Cameroon lead Angola by four points in African qualifying group A and will make sure of their World Cup place if they beat Togo at home in Yaounde on Sunday, irrespective of the how Angola perform 48 hours earlier.

South Africa are also on the brink of reaching the finals, needing just one point from their group E match away to Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou on Sunday. Both Liberia and Morocco also stand on the brink of qualification, although they cannot make mathematically certain in this weekend's round of African qualifiers. Morocco can put themselves within a point of the finals if they beat Egypt in Rabat on Saturday night in the crunch match of group C. Liberia's situation is a little more complicated as they attempt to stay ahead of Nigeria in group B and set themselves up for a fairytale finish to the qualifying campaign. Tunisia and the Ivory Coast will continue their tussle in group D but both sides are expected to win their respective home encounters on Sunday, leaving the battle for top place in the group still firmly in the balance. Cameroon's bountiful situation is in contrast to the turmoil in their own camp following the sacking of coach Pierre Lechantre last week.

The Frenchman was fired last week after Cameroon's poor performance in the Confederations Cup in Japan earlier this month. Sports minister Bidoung Mkpatt called Lechantre arrogant and said the atmosphere in the team was "poisonous". He is replaced by inexperienced compatriot Robert Corfou, who admitted he had little knowledge of Cameroonian soccer and said he was relying on his assistants for Sunday's match against Togo. But Cameroon will not need to concern themselves too much as Angola go into their Tripoli match having already given up hopes of qualifying, even if they still have a slight mathematical chance. The country is preoccupied with the performance of their under-20 side at the world youth championships in Argentina, where Angola have reached the second round to spark delirious celebration back home.

South Africa have recalled eight of their foreign-based players for the trip to Burkina Faso, where they seek to keep up their 100 percent record in the qualifiers. The only late withdrawal is that of striker Benni McCarthy, whose club Celta Vigo play in the Spanish cup final this weekend. McCarthy was replaced on Tuesday by Nkosinathi Nhleko. Liberia must beat Ghana at home in Monrovia on Sunday to continue the momentum of their unlikely march to the finals, with former world footballer of the year George Weah proving the inspiration at the helm of their campaign. Liberia lead group B by two points from Nigeria, who have a tough assignment away to Sudan on Sunday night. Sudan, a further point behind, are also still in with a hope of qualifying, with a further home game to come. The ideal scenario for Weah's side would be to win on Sunday and then see Nigeria and Sudan draw in Omdurman, leaving them needing just one point from their final match.

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