African teams kick off World Cup qualifiers
10 November 2011, 14:20
Johannesburg - Former World Cup finalists Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo suffer the ignominy of setting off on Africa's road to the next World Cup finals alongside the continent's minnows this weekend.
Declining fortunes over the last few years mean the two sides must now play at the start of the continental preliminaries, along with almost half of the 52 African hopefuls for the 2014 finals in Brazil.
They are involved in two of the 11 first-round knockout ties, which start on Friday and end next Wednesday.
The Congolese, then known as Zaire, were at the 1974 finals in West Germany and Togo played in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
On Friday, they play in more humble surroundings as they begin a bid to reclaim past glories.
The Congolese, who have charismatic French coach Claude Le Roy back in charge, are away to Swaziland while Togo, still awaiting news of Emmanuel Adebayor's possible return, travel to Guinea Bissau.
Friday's matches mark the return after an eight-year hiatus for the tiny island archipelago of Sao Tome e Principe, who have not played since an 8-0 defeat by Libya at the start of the qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup.
They host Congo on Friday already showing signs of possibly being on the receiving end of another crushing defeat. Coach Gustavo Clemente bemoaned a lack of preparation opportunity while local reports suggested the federation was battling to find money to pay for the return trip next week.
Lesotho return to competitive action after a three-year absence after losing six successive matches in the qualifiers for the last World Cup but are confident of shaking off years of inactivity when hosting Burundi in Maseru on Friday.
"The players are very strong right now," said their coach Leslie Notsi.
Somalia continue to enter the World Cup preliminaries but again are forced to host their home match on neutral territory because of the long-running conflict in the horn of Africa. They last had a home game in Mogadishu in October 1986.
Somali's Ocean Boys will play in neighbouring Djibouti on Saturday against Ethiopia, having spent the last three months in Djibouti preparing for the World Cup kickoff.
Ethiopian troops used the main stadium in the Somali capital as their base when they invaded Somalia in 2006 to drive Islamists from power, but retreated in 2009 in the face of a growing insurgency by rebels.
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