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Senegal and Ivory Coast set for a World Cup showdown

SHOWDOWN: Midfielder Toure (left) and Senegal’s Cisse

THE CONFEDERATION of African Football’s (CAF) absurd World Cup qualifying structure has delivered a tantalising final play-off round, pitting Ivory Coast against Senegal.

The October 12 first-leg in Abidjan is the first meeting of the West African giants since their World Cup qualifier in Dakar was abandoned after 72 minutes due to rioting fans last October.

Ivory Coast are favourites having triumphed in their two recent meetings. The Elephants were enjoying a commanding 2-0 lead in their abandoned contest, with CAF subsequently letting the result stand, and they also won 4-2 in Abidjan a month beforehand.

The vestiges of Ivory Coast’s golden generation remain, with Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora recalled by coach Sabri Lamouchi having been dropped in recent matches.

There appears to be recognition that the knockout system implemented by CAF demands the inclusion of players of tested temperament and precludes experimentation.

Lamouchi’s ability to call upon the likes of Yaya Toure, Lille’s Salomon Kalou, Saint-Etienne’s Max Gradel and a scoring-again Gervinho, now at Roma, bolsters his hand considerably.

Senegal coach Alain Giresse does not have such rich pickings. Hanover striker Mame Birame Diouf misses out through injury although the French coach seems intent on hampering his side’s chances with the decision to leave out Chelsea’s Demba Ba.

Giresse has made it clear to pick only those to feature regularly at club level, which accounts for Ba’s omission, but the presence of Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse, who has scored just one goal in eight matches this season, does not instil confidence in a workmanlike team.

The Lions of Teranga are further hindered by the fact that the return leg on November 16 will take place in Casablanca, as their ban on home matches in the wake of last year’s riot is still in effect.

The current Senegal line-up is not as fabled as that of El-Hadji Diouf and Papa Bouba Diop, but they recognise a chance to put their troubles behind them and emulate those 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists by at least reaching the tournament in Brazil next summer.

The Ivorians do not have such gilded World Cup memories but have been present at the past two editions, albeit without emerging from the group phase.

A third consecutive qualification would help ease the pain of yet another frustrating Cup of Nations campaign in January.
The rest of the continent will be paying close attention to the outcome of this match.

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