· Senegal and Morocco advance to final round of CAF qualifying
· Close battles between Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana and South Africa
· Algeria under pressure from Burkina Faso but control their own destiny
The second round of African qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ kicked off last month with 40 teams vying for just 10 berths in the final round. With only six games each to keep their qualification dreams alive, any setback can have dire consequences.
Two teams who could be biting their nails nervously come the final matchday are Ghana and Cameroon, in contrast to Morocco and Senegal, who have both taken maximum points thus far and are already through to the next phase. South Africa, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Nigeria and Tunisia, all former World Cup participants, remain in control of their own destinies, as do Tanzania and Mali, who currently top their respective groups and harbour dreams of a maiden appearance on the world stage.
Flawless Morocco and Senegal progress
With four wins in as many matches, the Atlas Lions and their Teranga counterparts are assured of top spots in Groups I and H respectively and can enjoy their final two fixtures free of pressure.
Morocco, who had three games in just six days, recorded emphatic back-to-back wins over Guinea-Bissau (5-0 and 3-0), followed by a comfortable victory over Guinea (4-1). Just as impressive as those wins was the convincing manner in which they were achieved, something that has occasionally been ben lacking since the beginning of Vahid Halilhodzic's tenure.
"It takes concentration, 100 per cent commitment and desire, and if I don’t see that, I’m not at all happy," said the demanding Bosnian coach. "We need to continue this encouraging run for as long as possible. There are quite a few positives to come from it, both defensively and offensively. Ultimately, we bring a more controlled, better managed game, and what I most like about it is that we’re taking our chances. I think this team can attain a higher level soon," he added.
For their part, the Senegalese also needed just four matchdays to win their group, with the two most recent bringing consecutive victories against Namibia (4-1, 3-1). After scoring in the first of those two games, alongside star striker Sadio Mane, Famara Diedhiou netted a hat-trick in yesterday’s second encounter to guarantee the progress of Aliou Cisse's side.
🔗 Sadio Mane with 2 assists, Famara Diedhiou with 3 goals. Watch the highlights as Senegal became the 1st team to reach the third round of African #WCQ ✅@famara2001 | @FootballSenegal pic.twitter.com/3aiuDhlvl7— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) October 12, 2021
Situation in remaining groups
Reigning African champions Algeria remain unbeaten and atop the group on goal difference from Burkina Faso. Les Fennecs’ two wins this week ended the hopes of Djibouti and Niger and set up a showdown with Les Etalons on 14 November in Algeria.
Tunisia dropped their first points of the campaign away to Mauritania (0-0) this week but retain top spot thanks to a 3-0 triumph a few days earlier against the same opponent. Second placed Equatorial Guinea, who took four points from their two meetings with Zambia in this window, will need the Carthage Eagles to drop more points when they meet twice in November if they are to deny them top spot in the group.
Nigeria's October 7 home-defeat to modest Central African Republic (1-0) certainly sent shockwaves around Africa. However, the Super Eagles made amends a few days later by winning the return fixture (2-0) to retain top spot. Do not rule out Cape Verde, however, who lurk just two points behind the leaders after their two wins over Liberia. The latter and Central African Republic are out of the running but could still have a say in proceedings in their respective outings against Nigeria and Cape Verde on the penultimate matchday, before the top-two square off in their final fixture.
Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon both took maximum points from their respective double headers with Malawi and Mozambique, who are both now out of contention. Top spot in the group will likely only be decided when the leading pair go head-to-head on the final day. The Indomitable Lions, who went down to the Elephants in the corresponding away fixture, have to win the home meeting, provided neither drop points on the penultimate day, when the Ivorians host the Mambas, and the Cameroonians visit Malawi.
After ending the hopes of Kenya and Rwanda, front runners Mali and Uganda can look forward to a potentially decisive clash on the final matchday. For now, Les Aigles hold a two-point lead and will also have home advantage against Uganda on November 14. The pair played out a scoreless draw in September in Entebbe.
Group favourites Egypt reasserted their dominance in this window with back-to-back wins over second-placed Libya (1-0, 3-0). Now four points clear, the Pharaohs are odds-on to reach the next round, given their two remaining fixtures are against already-eliminated Angola and a Gabon side almost certainly out of the running.
Ghana’s two wins (3-1, 1-0) in four days against Zimbabwe, with two goals from Thomas Partey, including a free-kick to secure the points in Harare, has kept them firmly in the hunt for top spot. That still belongs to South Africa, who also took maximum points from their two meeting with Ethiopia (3-1, 1-0). As a result, the Black Stars are still one point behind the Bafana Bafana, who they will need to beat on the final matchday provided neither slip up against the already-eliminated Ethiopia and Zimbabwe in their penultimate fixtures.
🎶 "No Thomas, no Partey," sing the Ghana fans 🇬🇭— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) October 12, 2021
🎉 Today they had Thomas. Today they have a party. @Thomaspartey22's free-kick earns the Black Stars a decisive victory in #WCQ ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/DiXBjgVBUt
There is still all to play for in this section with all four teams still mathematically able to progress, even if Congo DR (3rd) and Madagascar (4th), who each won at home against the other last week, no longer have their fate in their own hands. Pole position is currently occupied by Tanzania by virtue of having scored two more goals than Benin. The leading pair exchanged 1-0 away wins in this window and will finish their quest to reach the next round against the Leopards and Madagascans next month.
One record beaten...
With his brace in Algeria’s 6-1 defeat of Niger, Islam Slimani became the Fennecs’ all-time top scorer. His 36th and 37th international goals enabled him to move one clear of Abdelhafid Tasfaout’s mark. "Being top scorer of a big country like Algeria makes me proud. I have to commend the players and coaches who have allowed me to achieve this," said the striker, who also leads the scoring charts in CAF qualifying for Qatar 2022 (six goals).
... and a new one in sight?
Algeria have now gone 31 consecutive games without defeat. The Fennecs currently boast the longest ongoing unbeaten run following Italy's loss to Spain, and the fourth longest in history. Only Italy (37 matches between 2018 and 2021), Brazil (35 between 1993 and 1996) and Spain (35 between 2007 and 2009) have been unbeaten for longer, but Algeria will feel they have what it takes to emulate them.
Mauritania’s Corentin Martins was dismissed after his side’s defeat and draw with Tunisia last week. The Frenchman had been at the helm for seven years and had qualified Les Mourabitounes for the 2019 and 2022 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations. The same fate befell another Frenchman in charge of a CAF side, with Djibouti’s Julien Mette shown the door after another two defeats for his side in this window. In charge since March 2019, he had delivered the country’s first on-field qualification for the group stage of World Cup qualifying and done immense work on the development and professionalization of Djiboutian football.