The first continent out of the hat at the Preliminary Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, Africa now has a qualifying road map which will lead all the way to the finals. The five teams who featured at Brazil 2014 look particularly well equipped to complete the journey, especially as the same quintet came out on top in the race to reach South Africa 2010.
All five are among the 13 teams due to face one of the 13 winners from the first round in the second phase of qualifying. Those initial ties will be held over two legs on 5 and 13 October 2015.
Having given Germany a real test in the Round of 16 at Brazil 2014, Algeria will take on either Tanzania or Malawi in the second round. Les Fennecs (Desert Foxes) will look to rely on their strength at home, which helped them advance to the finals in 2010 and 2014, and was also key to their two previous appearances in 1982 and 1986.
Nigeria are set to tackle either Djibouti – the lowest-ranked African team in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – or Swaziland. The Super Eagles also survived the group stage in Brazil, but they are undergoing a transitional phase after the departure of Stephen Keshi, who led the nation to continental glory in 2013. The man charged with sealing a sixth finals berth is former star Sunday Oliseh, part of the side that took gold at the 1996 Olympics, and he will be hoping to continue Nigeria’s excellent home form. Like Algeria, the Super Eagles are a force to be reckoned with on their own patch, having not lost a home World Cup qualifier since 10 October 1981.
Similarly impressive in their own back yard, Cameroon can trump that record, with Congo the last team to come away with a victory on 31 October 1976. The Indomitable Lions can no longer look to Samuel Eto’o to make the difference, but the retired forward – who plundered 18 World Cup qualifying goals – played another decisive role in their fate as an assistant at the Preliminary Draw, pitting his old side against either Somalia or Niger. The current generation will need to show they are worthy successors as they target an eighth appearance at the main event – and a better showing than their underwhelming displays at Brazil 2014.
Côte d’Ivoire were another side knocked out of last summer’s finals at the first hurdle, but they have coped extremely well with life after Didier Drogba and turned heads by winning the CAF Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year. Les Elephants will face Liberia or Guinea-Bissau in their first test ahead of a potential fourth consecutive World Cup, where they have yet to reach the knockout phase.
Ghana‘s sights are also set on a fourth successive appearance on the global stage, and they begin their journey against either Comoros or Lesotho. The Black Stars were the youngest team at Brazil last year and will need to show that their unconvincing campaign has helped them grow in maturity.
Of the 13 seeded sides waiting to learn who they will meet in the second round, four more have previous World Cup experience: Tunisia (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006), Egypt (1934, 1990), Senegal (2002) and Congo DR (1974).
As for the other teams with at least one World Cup under their belts, they will kick off against another contender given a bye into the second round. That, for example, is the mission facing Morocco, who have graced the finals four times, but not since 1998. Their quest for a place at Russia 2018 starts against Equatorial Guinea, one of the rising forces of African football after they clinched fourth spot on home soil at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
The other eye-catching tie in the second round is the only fixture between a pair of World Cup veterans. Angola, who made the cut in 2006, will test their mettle against South Africa, with the continental heavyweights keen to secure a fourth ticket to the finals after 1998, 2002 and their stint as hosts five years ago. Bafana Bafana will go into that contest as clear favourites but will need to beware their opponents, who fear no one at home and have not lost a World Cup qualifier in front of their own supporters since 25 June 1989.
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