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Lightweight contenders face tough Nations Cup scrutiny

© Reuters 2002

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 10 (Reuters) - After an opening round of shock results, Africa's lightweight footballing nations face a tough scrutiny of their credentials in this weekend's African Nations Cup qualifiers.

Countries like Benin, the Cape Verde Islands, Libya, Madagascar, Niger and the Seychelles all achieved rare victories and find themselves in uncharted waters by making a positive start to a Nations Cup qualifying campaign.

But this weekend's second round of matches in the preliminaries for the 2004 finals in Tunisia is likely to bring a dose of realism to their aspirations.

Benin's 4-0 win over Tanzania was the biggest victory margin of the first set of fixtures last month but the west African country now face a much sterner test in Lusaka against Zambia.

Their hosts have been perennial qualifiers for the final tournament and also won last month, away in Sudan, to underline their favourite status in group three.

After originally failing to secure the release of their foreign-based players, Zambia have now belatedly called-up uncapped German-based midfielder Milton Tembo, Gift Kampamba, who plays in Russia, and their first-choice goalkeeper Davies Phiri, who is based in South Africa.

"We need professionals to strengthen our team as they have gained the exposure of playing abroad," said coach Patrick Phiri.

The Cape Verde Islands have also sought the experience of players based in Europe and started their campaign with a 2-0 win at Mauritania in group five - only their second-ever triumph in a Nations Cup match.

They host Kenya at the Varzea stadium on the island archipelago on Saturday, strengthened by the arrival of four players from Portuguese clubs, two from France and one each from Angola and Norway.

Kenya prepared for the match with a two-week tour of Britain, which included matches against clubs in England and Northern Ireland.

Madagascar's 1-0 win over Egypt in group 10 proved one of the major shocks of the year in African football and their Swiss coach Hans Heiniger says he expects a similar result away at nearby Mauritius.

"We are ready. The players are tops," said the veteran coach as his team departed home on Thursday for Saturday's game in Flacq.

The Seychelles, who beat Eritrea in their first match in group six, face the possibility of a barrage away at Mali, who hosted the last Nations Cup finals earlier this year and reached the semi-finals.

Mali lost 1-0 at Zimbabwe in their opening game in group six but will give a debut to English-based striker Mamady Sidibe of Gillingham and welcome back Strasbourg's Mamadou Bagayoko, who both missed the match in Harare.

"The two will be key for us," said coach Christian Dagler, who has named 17 players from European clubs in his squad.

The weekend's matches see the entry into the qualifiers of Burundi, Chad, the Gambia, Malawi, Mauritius and Rwanda, who all did not play last month.

Chad have shown their ambitions with a lengthy training camp in France and the acquisition of a new coach, the Cameroonian Jean-Paul Akono, ahead of Friday's group 12 qualifier in Algeria.

Akono was in charge of the Cameroon team which won the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Reports provided by

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Mozambican coach resigns after 3-0 defeat
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Gunes unconcerned by Tugay retirement speculation
Japan coach Zico set to stand by Nakamura
Czech Republic 3 Belarus 0 - Euro under-21 result
Greece back in the hunt, says Rehhagel
Wednesday, 16 October
Eriksson wary of Macedonia threat
Tuesday, 15 October
Lizarazu vows to keep playing for France until Euro 2004
Rehhagel position 'not an issue' says Greek federation
Cyprus angered by UEFA treatment
France at full strength to take on Malta
France set to continue renaissance but Italy look shaky
Monday, 14 October
New faces in Poland squad for New Zealand friendly
Balakov doubtful for Bulgaria qualifier against Andorra
Yugoslav press praise impressive 1-1 draw in Naples
Inzaghi to miss clash with Wales
I won't quit says Italy coach Trapattoni
Croatia coach Baric called on to step down
Cyprus objects to postponement of Israel game
Dumitrescu quits as Romanian under-21 coach
McCarthy says he will quit after Euro 2004
N. Korean 1966 World Cup team revisit the past
Gambia hit Lesotho for six in African Nations Cup
Sunday, 13 October
Sidibe scores on debut for Mali
Burkina Faso come from behind to win
Adebayor secures 1-0 win for Togo
Austria prepare shock for the Netherlands
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Swaziland beat Libya in dramatic finish to Cup qualifier
South Africa fall short of goal target in 2-0 victory
UEFA to probe Slovakia-England match trouble
France boost morale with badly-needed victory
Macedonia coach in quit threat
Saez delighted with Spain's flying start to qualifiers
Trapattoni attacked for Italy's lacklustre draw
Eriksson looks for England improvement against Macedonia
Friday, 11 October
UEFA punishes clubs for racist abuse
I deserve respect not criticism, says 100-cap Desailly
Kahn should not quit, Germany chief says
Czech police issue warning about English hooligans
Massive Maltese security operation for Israel visit
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Argentina's Gorosito begins coaching career
World Cup winners Brazil still in limbo
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