African football fans are looking forward to the next round of qualifying matches for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, which will be co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The qualifiers will be played all across the continent during the first weekend in June. The final two rounds of qualifying matches will be played during September and October, which will decide the 16 teams that will compete at African football’s premier event.
There have been some surprises during the qualifying competition. “The Zebras” of Botswana were the first team to book their ticket to the biennial African soccer showpiece, outside of co-hosts Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, which earned automatic berths.
This is the first time Botswana has qualified for the Nations Cup. Jerome Ramatlhkwane has been the goalscoring hero for Botswana. He and Senegal’s Mamadou Niang are the joint top scorers in the qualifying campaign with five goals each.
Senegal will next travel to Cameroon, which was a big disappointment at last year’s World Cup in South Africa, where it lost all three of its matches. “The Indomitable Lions” of Cameroon, four-time African champions, have also been disappointing in this Nations Cup qualifying tournament. Cameroon has four points from three qualifiers, and is in danger of missing out on next year’s African football fiesta.
“The Pharoahs” of Egypt, with the proudest Nations Cup pedigree of any African team, also face the embarrassing prospect of not qualifying for Gabon-Equatorial Guinea 2012. The seven-time African champions have been rocked by political turmoil at home and they are at the bottom of their qualifying group with one point from three matches. The Egyptians have a virtual must-win match on June 5 when they host first-place South Africa in Cairo.