Morocco and Togo talk up World Cup chances
Morocco and Togo both remain confident of reaching the 2010 World Cup despite being drawn together in the toughest group in final round of African qualifying.
The two countries have been paired in Group A with Africa's top-ranked team Cameroon and Gabon.
Only the five group winners will qualify for the finals in South Africa, but Togo coach Kodjovi Mawuena is hopeful of guiding the west Africans to a second consecutive World Cup.
"Each country will have a chance," Mawuena told www.togosite.com. "Cameroon and Morocco are major opponents, but they are not feared. The group is playable."
The Sparrow Hawks, who endured a tough second round of qualifiers only just scraping through as one of the eight-best runners-up, have been dogged by administrative problems recently and Mawuena is hoping they can leave those troubles behind.
"If we prepare well and if we have a good atmosphere within the players, we will achieve great things," he said. "It will be necessary to cultivate a good relationship between the federation, players and technical staff."
Mohamed Aouzal, the vice-president of the Royal Morocco Football Federation (FRMF) was equally bullish about their chances of qualifying for a first World Cup since 1998.
He said: "From now on, it is difficult to make a distinction between strong and weak teams on the continent. As we've seen in recent years, all the African countries produce players of high quality.
"Everyone needs to work seriously and not waste the chance of qualification for the final stages of the World Cup, especially after having missed the last editions in 2002 and 2006."
Cameroon coach Otto Pfister was cautious about his team's chances, warning they should not right off anyone.
"All our opponents should be respected," said the German. "Each team has their strong points and weak points. But if they have made it to this stage of the competition, they can't be taken likely."
Nigeria - the only team in the previous qualifying stage to record six wins in as many games - are the seeded team in Group B, with their strongest challenge expected to come from Tunisia.
The rest of the pool is made up of Mozambique and Kenya, but Super Eagles boss Shuaibu Amodu is still preparing for a tough campaign.
He said: "This is not a particularly easy draw as many people are suggesting. We have respect for every team in the pool. Tunisia are always hard nuts and Kenya did well to qualify from a group that also included Zimbabwe."
African champions Egypt are top seeds in Group C, which also includes Algeria, Zambia and Rwanda.
The Pharaohs have surprisingly not qualified for the finals in 20 years, despite wining three continental titles in that time and their coach Hassan Shehata has placed emphasis on the away games in the group.
"It's logical that any team willing to qualify should win all their home ties," Shehata told TV channel Al-Jazeera Sports. "That's why the away games will be very important."
Much has been made about the coach's comments last week, where he openly stated his desire to avoid another Arab team.
However, Algeria are in the same section meaning a north African derby for Egypt.
"In general, it's not an easy group. But we won't be just focusing on Algeria and I'm sure they will do the same," added Shehata.
Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac also knows the importance of winning on the road.
The Black Stars are in Group D alongside Benin, Sudan and Mali.
Rajevac said: "We must try to play as good away as we play at home because that is needed to qualify. Ghana don't have best results away because their style away was different from at home. We have to change this.
"But we don't fear any team and we won't underestimate any team.
"There are a lot of teams that for some people appear not very good. But such teams have a lot of their players playing in Europe. Benin for instance has a lot of players playing in the French First Division. Such teams deserve respect."
Finally, Ivory Coast will be the strong favourites to proceed from Group E, which also contains Malawi, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
But coach Vahid Halilhodzic told www.fifci.org: "This draw gave us a rather difficult group.
Guinea and Burkina Faso are two adjoining countries of the Ivory Coast whose football is ever-improving."
Each of the five group winners will qualify for the finals alongside hosts South Africa, while the top three teams in each group will qualify for the 2010 African Nations Cup finals in Angola.
The first round of matches kicks off on the last weekend in March and will be completed in November.