Posted: Thursday October 10, 2013 1:59 PM

5 things to know: Africa's World Cup playoffs

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Five teams will emerge from Africa's final World Cup playoffs to win a ticket to Brazil next June. Here are five things to know about those decisive two-leg playoffs, which begin this weekend:

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FOR ALL OF EGYPT: Egypt coach Bob Bradley has spoken of the team's desire to realize a dream for all Egyptian people and reach the World Cup for the first time since 1990 and only the third time ever. In a nation fractured for two years by violence and still with little sign of a solution, football may give embattled Egyptians a small unifier. At first unable to play at home, then shifted from Cairo to Alexandria and lately to the resort of El Gouna on the Red Sea and with fans locked out, Egypt was the only team to win all six games in group qualifying. Their progress is part of a wider North African revival: Algeria and Tunisia also made the last 10 surviving teams, months after none of the region's teams even made the last eight at a West African-dominated African Cup.

NEW FACES: Ethiopia's vibrant brand of football and even more colorful fans could be on the way to the World Cup. So, too, could Burkina Faso under Belgian coach Paul Put, which reached the African Cup final in February, sweeping aside Emmanuel Adebayor's Togo and World Cup quarterfinalist Ghana and nearly shocking Nigeria. They are the two playoff teams that have never played at the World Cup and could provide fans in Brazil with a never-before-seen experience.

SERIOUS BUSINESS: African governments often throw their weight behind World Cup qualifying campaigns, hoping to give their teams extra help for a rare chance to shine on the international stage and please a football-mad population. Sometimes it goes too far. In Burkina Faso last weekend two Algerian reporters were arrested, accused of spying ahead of the teams' match in the playoffs. They were taking photographs at a stadium and have since been released. Meanwhile, Cameroon President Paul Biya asked Chelsea striker Samuel Eto'o to make himself available for the tie against Tunisia, while Nigeria and Ghana players have been promised improved bonuses and were urged on this week by their countries' presidents. Egyptian authorities came together to give security guarantees to be allowed to play the second leg against Ghana in front of fans at a military stadium in Cairo. Top diplomats from the two countries also have met over the tie.

ETO'O AND FRO: Out, then in, then out, then in again. So goes the recent roller-coaster international career of Cameroon's Eto'o, who returned from a ban imposed by his federation for his part in a player strike to help it reach the final World Cup playoffs, then retired from the national team. Now Eto'o, a two-time Champions League winner and Olympic gold medalist, has been convinced by Cameroon's president to come back and play against Tunisia. Eto'o said: "As citizens we all have certain responsibilities.''

SEARCHING FOR A SEMIFINALIST: The 2014 World Cup will mark 90 years since Egypt was Africa's first representative at the second showpiece in Italy. And still the continent waits for a semifinalist, let alone a contender for the title. Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and most recently Ghana in 2010 are the only three African teams to make the quarters. But Africans appear to be getting closer, with a late Luis Suarez handball on the goal-line and a painful missed penalty denying the Ghanaians a history-making victory over Uruguay in the quarters three years ago.

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Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

 
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