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 By Mark Gleeson

Uganda, Ivory Coast, DR Congo and others in final Nations Cup battle

Uganda fans will hope their side makes it through.

The last six places for next January's African Nations Cup (ANC) finals will be filled by the end of the weekend with holders Ivory Coast and former winners the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tunisia among those fancied to secure a berth at the 2017 finals in Gabon.

In all, four group winners still must be decided plus the identity of the two best runners-up, which means 11 countries go into the last round of group matches still holding out hopes of a place at the finals, even if some with only the smallest of percentages.

There are high hopes for Uganda, who have come agonisingly close over recent years but have not played in the finals since they finished runners-up in 1978. Again they are tantalisingly close but could yet again miss out by the narrowest of margins.

They are joint top of Group D, sharing top place with Burkina Faso. Both have 10 points from their five matches and both end their qualifying campaign with home games on Sunday.

Both sides will kick off simultaneously with Burkina Faso hosting Botswana, while Uganda take on the Comoros Islands in matches where the odds on the away sides are long.

Should both the Burkinabe and Ugandans win and end on 13 points each, then Burkina will take the top slot in the group -- and secure automatic qualification -- because of their head-to-head record against Uganda in the group (a home win and an away draw.)

But Uganda will also go through if they secure home success because they would definitely finish among the best runners-up, in what will be a major fillip for the country.

They had a warm-up friendly against neighbours Kenya on Wednesday, which ended goalless, and have added Bevis Mugabi to their squad for the first time. London-born Mugabi, who can play either right-back or centre-back, came through the youth system at Southampton was allowed to join Yeovil Town in August.

Ivory Coast, who took the last ANC trophy in Bata in 2015, need only a draw against Sierra Leone to take top place in their group, as is the case with the Democratic Republic of Congo, who finished third at the last finals.

Both play at home and any other outcome but qualification will be considered a major upset.

Will Yaya Toure make his return to the side?

The Ivorians look a little lightweight in the attacking department as they are without Wilfred Bony and Salomon Kalou, while Seydou Doumbia was not called up again after storming out of the camp in March over frustration that he was not getting more game time. The FC Basel striker clashed with coach Michel Dussuyer after being ignored although the polemic is much of his own making.

Meanwhile, the soap opera around Yaya Toure continues as he has not played since the 2015 finals and promised to return in June but then withdrew through injury. Dussuyer told a news conference in Abidjan this week that he was headed to Britain for a final discussion with the 33-year-old about whether he is interested in continuing his international career or not. So we'll have to see how those went.

The Congolese have selection dilemmas of their own too. They hoped to have former French junior international Gael Kakuta finally suit up for them, as well as British-born Benik Afobe, but both are injured, as is the talismanic Cedric Bakambu.

DR Congo have an increasingly impressive pool of players but just never seem to be able to get them all together at the same time. Yannick Bolaise is present in Kinshasa, however, as is skipper Youssuf Mulumbu, who has struggled with injury over the last two years and missed many of his country's key games.

Group A has a three way scenario with Tunisia best placed but Liberia and Togo also in the mix.

A win in Monastir over Liberia on Sunday would ensure Tunisia's qualification. If it is a draw, there will be at three-way tie at the top because it must be presumed that Togo will hammer Djibouti and join the top two on 11 points.

To settle a three way tie, a mini table will have to be created of results between the three and it could end up coming down to goals scored to settle the group.

Already qualified are: Gabon (hosts), Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

Teams who failed to qualify include: 2012 winners Zambia, 2013 champions Nigeria, South Africa, plus previous winners Ethiopia and Sudan.

Mark Gleeson covers African football for ESPN FC.


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