The first legs of the final round of Africa’s qualifying matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar are set to get underway today with five thrilling clashes. Within the next four days, the continent’s heavyweights come up against each other in two-legged matches to decide which sides qualify for the global competition.
The final playoff games will see ten countries vie for the continent’s five slots at the World Cup to be played in Qatar later this year. The highlight of the matches will be between TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations finalists, Senegal and Egypt, as well as the clash between long-standing arch-rivals, Ghana and Nigeria. However, the excitement will run through all the upcoming crucial games which begin today.
Egypt Vs Senegal, Revenge or Repeat
This is undoubtedly another standout tie, with Carlos Queiroz’s Pharaohs keen to avenge their penalty-shootout defeat to the Lions of Teranga in the AFCON 2021 final in Cameroon earlier this year. What makes this match a standout is the duel between Liverpool team-mates, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane – two of the best players on the planet.
As 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.
Ghana vs Nigeria, More than a qualifier
Tipping a winner of this heavyweight clash is no easy a task as the rivalry between the two countries goes beyond football. Four-time African champions, Ghana, is aiming for a fourth World Cup spot, while three-time AFCON winners, Nigeria, is looking to make Qatar 2022 its seventh World Cup appearance.
The Black Stars have been on a downward trajectory of late, having fallen at the group stages 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 Round of 16.
However, with star striker Victor Osimhen – the scorer of four goals in his last two matches for Napoli – back on international duty, the Supper Eagles are entitled to dream of a ticket to Qatar. However, the Super Eagles will have to overcome a rejuvenated Black Stars team that is seeking to re-write its story in the good books of the supporters in Kumasi later this evening.
Mali vs Tunisia, Too close to call
In what looks to be a very open tie, the Eagles of Carthage of Tunisia face a stern test against a powerful, young Mali side, intending to make history by reaching the World Cup for the very first time.
On the other hand, Tunisia will be anxious to avoid a repeat of the group-phase meeting between the two at AFCON 2021, when the Malians beat them 1-0. 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. This is definitely one of the tricky ties in the African World Cup qualifiers to look out for.
Congo DR Vs Morocco, danger lurks for Atlas Lions
On paper, Vahid Halilhodzic’s men look to be favorites 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 of Morocco have not been at their best in recent times.
Even though tipped as one of the favorites to win the AFCON 2021, the team’s hopes were dashed in the quarter-finals by eventual runners-up, Egypt. On their part, the Leopards are aiming to make their first World Cup appearance since Germany 1974, competing as Zaire. The team’s inability to qualify for the 2021 AFCON will serve as a huge motivation for the players to make their nation proud and appease their fans, should they book a ticket to Qatar.
Cameroon vs Algeria, clash of the titans
After finishing third at AFCON 2021 on home soil, Cameroon is now looking to qualify for its eighth World Cup. However, newly appointed Indomitable Lions coach, Rigobert Song, faces a tougher opening assignment with Algeria as the opposition.
Still recovering 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 Cup for a fifth time.
Coach Djamel Belmadi will be looking to star man, Riyad Mahrez, to replicate his recent form for Manchester City where he has been directly involved in 19 goals in City’s last 16 matches in all competitions.
The matches are expected to be fiery, thanks to the presence of some of the world’s best footballers in all the sides that will play in the final round of qualifiers which will be starting just hours away.