Africa’s qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup comprises 53 nations battling it out for just five spots at the finals in Russia over 126 matches.
This is a continent which has long been touted as the one which will provide the first nation not from Europe or South America to win the World Cup, and although this hasn’t materialised to date, there is no doubting the breadth of talent which the region possesses. No teams have qualified at the time of writing, but in this blog we pick out some of the key countries who look in good shape and could very well be on the plane to Russia next summer:
This nation holds the distinction of being the first sub-Saharan country to qualify for the finals (when they were called Zaire), and the two-time African champions look in good fettle. With only one qualifying place from five groups of four on offer during qualification, they will have to hold off Group A rivals Tunisia, also currently on six points, to go through.
The North Africans are gunning for the first finals spot since 2006, and with a strong squad featuring many players representing sides in France’s Ligue 1, the Eagles of Carthage will be confident of shattering DR Congo’s hopes.
The Super Eagles have reached the last 16 three times since USA 1994, and riding high at the top of Group B – the ‘Group of Death’ – the three-time African champions will fancy their chances of appearing at a sixth finals. Talents such as Leicester City duo Wilfred Ndidi and Ahmed Musa make them a force to be reckoned with.
Who can forget Cameroon’s run to the quarter-finals of Italia ’90, when they entertained the world with their own helter-skelter brand of football? In qualifying, they have landed in a tough group with Nigeria, Zambia and Algeria, and might need to win all their remaining games to have a hope of catching Nigeria.
The Elephants have been a rising star of African football over the past decade, and with the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Wilfried Bony in their ranks, will fancy their chances of topping Group C and progressing to their fourth finals in a row.
If North Africa is to have a representative in Russia, perhaps it will be the team currently in Group C’s second spot. If they can beat the Ivory Coast in a November clash, the table could have a very different look.
It would be a fairytale if the Stallions could reach their first ever finals, but not a surprise to everyone. The West Africans have been steadily improving, and reached the African Cup of Nations final in 2013. They will look to the likes of Lyon front man Bertrand Traoré for inspiration.
The 2010 World Cup hosts are in contention in Group D, and with a football mad nation behind them, they are in with a chance of qualifying for their first finals since the tournament on home soil, providing they can see off Burkina Faso and Senegal.
Their upstaging of France in the first game of the 2002 tournament will live long in the memory, and while the generation of El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao is gone, torch carriers such as Sadio Mané and Mame Biram Diouf mean they are in with a shout.
The seven-times African champions have qualified for the World Cup only twice – a record they will be keen to put right. They are sitting pretty at the summit of Group E. and spearheaded by Liverpool’s recent big money signing Mohamed Salah, the sky is the limit.
If any team is going to stop Salah and Egypt, it could be Ghana, but they must overcome a terrible start which has included a loss to Egypt and draw with Uganda. Can Asamoah Gyan et al turn things around and reach their fourth finals?