Predicting the five teams that will represent Africa at the World CupTheSportsWig Admin
The World Cup qualifying playoff draw for African nations was conducted on Saturday, with the 10 teams still standing learning their opponents for the March double-headers.
Heavyweights Ivory Coast and South Africa were already out of the running, while major African stars such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sebastien Haller, and Naby Keita already know that they’ll miss out on next year’s global showpiece after failing in the group stage.
ESPN predicts which five sides will represent Africa at the World Cup later this year.
The reigning African champions are coming off the back of a miserable Africa Cup of Nations in which they bombed out in the group stage, but they still look well placed to reach Qatar.
Algeria didn’t have things all their own way during qualifying, dropping points in both fixtures against Burkina Faso, but they were hardly going to be tested by Niger or Djibouti.
They started the campaign with an 8-0 demolition of poor little Djibouti, and would go on to score a further 14 goals in their three other fixtures against the two smaller teams in the group.
Problems have since set in, notably their inability to finish teams off at the AFCON, and Algeria can no longer be considered Africa’s ‘team to beat’.
That’s been done — their undefeated streak was ended by lowly Equatorial Guinea at 35 matches — although a team who didn’t lose for three years can’t just lose their qualities overnight.
Across their first two AFCON matches, Algeria registered more possession, more shots per game and more chances created than any other side, and boast quality in abundance.
In Riyad Mahrez, now in his prime, they boast one of Africa’s top talents, while the likes of Adem Zorgane, Ramiz Zerrouki, Hicham Boudaoui, Mehdi Zarkane and Ahmed Touba should represent a new generation breaking onto the scene.
Djamel Belmadi may wish to address the increasing average age of his squad, but first he must ensure there’s no hangover for this squad after such a feeble title defence in Douala.
Senegal vs Egypt
The Salah vs Mane showdown dominated headlines in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s draw, and indeed — tension in the Anfield dressing room aside — their pair of meetings in March should be mouth-watering affairs.
From a broader African perspective, it’s a shame indeed that two of the continent’s three outstanding players will have to compete for one place at the World Cup, with one of them guaranteed to be absent from the grandest stage of all.
Currently Africa’s top ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings, Senegal are just outside the world’s top 20 right now, and 2022 can still be a magnificent year for them despite their slow start at the AFCON.
Indeed, the Teranga Lions will be hoping that this year is the culmination of a long period of progress and a fine cycle under Aliou Cisse.
They missed the 2013 Nations Cup, were dumped out in the group stage in 2015, were eliminated on penalties in the quarterfinals in 2017, and were then defeated finalists two years later.
In between, they also reached the 2018 World Cup, and only missed out on the knockout stages due to an inferior disciplinary record.
They will have learned from those experiences, and are now targeting the African title and their first ever consecutive World Cup qualification.
Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Abdou Diallo, Cheikhou Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye give them the best defensive spine in Africa, and Sadio Mane’s deeper role as a second striker should help them compensate for a lack of midfield creativity.
If he can get the best out of the likes of Krepin Diatta, Keita Balde, Ismaila Sarr and Famara Diedhiou — who devastated Namibia with a hat-trick during qualifying — then Senegal should romp to Qatar.
Morocco vs Democratic Republic of Congo
Morocco will be wary of the DRC – and an away day in Lubumbashi – after being pitted against the Leopards, but they should have enough to reach the World Cup.
The Atlas Lions are coming off the back of an outstanding group stage in the qualifying campaign in which they won all six matches and registered a +19 goal difference.
Morocco eased into the playoffs, and are currently the only team in the global World Cup qualifying campaign to still have a 100-percent record at this stage of the proceedings. This was even despite finding themselves wrapped up in a military coup ahead of their second group game – in Conakry – back in September.
What’s more impressive is that this campaign has come against a backdrop of some tension and turmoil within the squad, with star man Hakim Ziyech axed by Vahid Halilhodzic after a series of disagreements between the pair.
This was a bold – and potentially reckless – move from the Bosnian coach, who will be cut little slack by the Royal Moroccan Football Federation if the North Africans lack a cutting edge without the Chelsea playmaker.
So far, however, Vahid’s power play has paid off, although it’s not impossible that the ex-Ajax man returns later in 2022.
Sevilla striker Youssef En-Nesyri — 18 goals in La Liga last term — is finding his feet at the Nations Cup, but should be back to his best in time for the March playoff, while deputies Ayoub El Kaabi and Ryan Mmaee shared nine goals during the qualifiers.
Remarkably, Morocco have conceded just one goal across the last two World Cup qualifying campaigns…these are the makings of a Qatar-bound team.
Prediction: Mali This double-header represents a massive opportunity for Mali and Tunisia, both of whom will be delighted with the draw.
Tunisia have reached five World Cups, but look the most vulnerable of the top seeds, even if they did neutralise and eliminate Nigeria from the Nations Cup on Sunday.
They are certainly beatable opponents for Mali, who are the only African side left standing in the qualifying campaign never to have reached the World Cup before.
Indeed, the Eagles have already proved they can get the better of their North African foe by dispatching Tunisia 1-0 in their AFCON opener, the victory overshadowed outside Mali by the dubious performance of referee Janny Sikazwe in that match.
Nigeria vs Ghana
Rounding off the quintet is Nigeria, even though both of these West African giants must dust themselves off after bruising exits at the AFCON.
The Super Eagles romped through the AFCON group stage, taking maximum points, but folded when up against a Tunisian wall in the Last 16, and are set to face an inquisition upon their return to West Africa.
Nigeria still have a few things in their favour, and must use the Nations Cup group stage as a reference point under new coach Jose Peseiro, who’s set to replace interim boss Augustine Eguavoen after the tournament. Though, an high-ranking source told ESPN that Eguavoen could well keep the job… but that was before they lost in the Last 16.
Victor Osimhen will return to the side having missed the tournament, and has the quality to be the finest African striker of his generation, while he spearheads a supporting cast that includes the likes of Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi, Samuel Kalu, Samuel Chukwueze and Moses Simon.
There’s talent there, and while Nigeria’s trip to Cameroon ultimately ended in a miserable anti-climax, they’ll still have much less of a Nations Cup headache to blow away than their fierce rivals Ghana.