Six weeks on from the 2021 CAF Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), the continent is gearing up for the play-offs for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, which begin on Friday 25 March. Ten teams remain in the qualification hunt and only five of them will make it.
The five two-legged ties feature some mouth-watering match-ups, with Egypt taking on Senegal in a replay of the AFCON 2021 final and fellow continental superpowers Cameroon and Algeria also facing off. We preview the closing act in Africa’s race to Qatar 2022.
25 March, first legs
Congo DR-Morocco (16:00), Stade des Martyrs, Kinshasa
Mali-Tunisia (18:00), Stade du 26 Mars, Bamako
Cameroon-Algeria (18:00), Japoma Stadium, Douala
Egypt-Senegal (20:30), Cairo International Stadium, Cairo
Ghana-Nigeria (20:30), Cape Coast Stadium, Cape Coast
29 March, second legs
Senegal-Egypt (19:00), Diamniadio Olympic Stadium, Dakar
Nigeria-Ghana (19:00), MKO National Stadium, Abuja
Algeria-Cameroon (21:30), Mustapha Tchaker Stadium, Blida
Tunisia-Mali (21:30), Stade Olympique Hammadi Agrebi, Tunis
Morocco-Congo DR (21:30), Complexe Mohammed V, Casablanca
Cameroon-Algeria: clash of the titans
After finishing third at AFCON 2021 on home soil, Cameroon are now looking to qualify for their eighth World Cup. Newly appointed Indomitable Lions coach Rigobert Song could not have asked for a tougher opening assignment, with Algeria providing the opposition.
Still smarting from their surprise first-round elimination at AFCON 2021 and with the weight of a nation’s expectations on their shoulders, Les Fennecs will have their work cut out if they are to reach Qatar 2022 and the world finals for a fifth time. The subject of much criticism, coach Djamel Belmadi will be looking to star man Riyad Mahrez to replicate his recent form for Manchester City. The wide man has been directly involved in 19 goals in City’s last 16 matches in all competitions.
Congo DR-Morocco: danger lurks for Atlas Lions
On paper, Vahid Halilhodzic’s men look to be favourites to advance to their second World Cup in a row and their sixth in total.
Yet despite possessing a talented squad that features the likes of Achraf Hakimi and Yassine Bounou, the Atlas Lions have not been at their best in recent times and saw their AFCON 2021 hopes ended in the quarter-finals by eventual runners-up Egypt. For their part, the Leopards are aiming to make their first world finals appearance since Germany 1974, when they competed as Zaire.
Egypt-Senegal: AFCON 2021 finalists meet again
Another standout tie, with Carlos Queiroz’s Pharaohs no doubt keen to avenge their penalty-shootout defeat to the Lions of Teranga in the AFCON 2021 final.
The duel between Liverpool team-mates Mo Salah and Sadio Mane – two of the best players on the planet – will undoubtedly be one to watch. The leading scorer in the Premier League this season with 20 goals, the Egypt captain has his sights set on a second consecutive World Cup appearance, which would be his country’s fourth in all. Salah will pose the biggest threat to Aliou Cisse’s side, who will be looking to Edouard Mendy to maintain his fine form between the posts. On a high after securing their first ever AFCON title, the Senegalese are hoping to advance to their third World Cup.
Mali-Tunisia: too close to call
In what looks to be a very open tie, the Eagles of Carthage face a stern test against a powerful, young Mali side intent on making history by reaching the world finals for the very first time.
Tunisia will be anxious to avoid a repeat of the group-phase meeting between the two at AFCON 2021, when the Malians harried them to a 1-0 defeat. Having taken over from Mondher Kebaier in early February, Jalel Kadri faces a baptism of fire as he seeks to steer the Tunisians to their second World Cup appearance in a row.
Ghana-Nigeria: Little to choose between continental big guns
Tipping a winner of this heavyweight bout is no easy task. Four-time African champions Ghana are gunning for a fourth World Cup spot, while three-time AFCON winners Nigeria are looking to make Qatar 2022 their seventh world finals.
The Black Stars have been on a downward trajectory of late, having fallen at the first hurdle at AFCON 2021, the first time they have gone out in the group phase since 2006. The Super Eagles fared little better, going down 1-0 to Tunisia in the last 16. But with star striker Victor Osimhen – the scorer of four goals in his last two matches for Napoli – back on international duty, they are entitled to dream of a ticket to Qatar.
24 – Cameroon have not lost a home World Cup qualifying match in 24 years, with their last such defeat coming way back in 1998.
4 – Nigeria are aiming to reach their fourth world finals in a row and equal the African record set by Cameroon between Italy 1990 and Korea/Japan 2002. https://www.youtube.com/embed/q00_S3CiXt8?feature=oembed
Did you know?
- Between France 1938 and Russia 2018, 13 African countries have qualified for the World Cup out of a total of 54: Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Congo DR (as Zaire), Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Tunisia.
- Having both represented France at U-21 level, Everton midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure and Eintracht Frankfurt right-back Almamy Toure have decided to switch their allegiances to Mali in time for the play-offs.
- With seven appearances in total (at Spain 1982, Italy 1990, USA 1994, France 1998, Korea/Japan2002, South Africa 2010, and Brazil 2014), Cameroon have contested more World Cups than any other African nation, ahead of Nigeria on six, and Morocco and Tunisia on five.
“This is the most important match of my career, both as a player and a coach.” – Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi
“When you make your objectives and dreams a priority, then nothing is impossible. Make no mistake, teams with courage and talent can change the future.” – Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz
“We are the champions of Africa but we’re not the favourites. If you look at the record books, you’ll see that African champions don’t always make it to the World Cup.” – Senegal coach Aliou Cisse
“Playing at the World Cup is an amazing experience. My goal since I came here is to take Morocco to the World Cup. I’m hopeful. Our aim is to qualify and we want to set the record straight. We are a proud team.” – Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic
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