All but one of the members of the African confederation entered the race to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. For 13 of them the race will be run after just two games in the first round. Travelling teams looked strong in first-leg matches played from Wednesday on, as Kenya, Niger, Botswana and Swaziland ensured convincing away wins.
A second victory
Sao Tome e Principe won their first-ever World Cup qualifier in 2000, beating Sierra Leone 2-0. That remained their only victory in the competition – that is until Thursday, when Luis Leal scored the only goal of the game against Ethiopia. What makes the win even more remarkable is that the Walias are ranked 72 places higher than the island-state, who now go into the return match needing just a draw to secure an historic place in the second round.
Swazi success story continues
Swaziland has been one of the success stories of football in Africa this year and the Royal Leopards' remarkable run in the CAF Confederation Cup has obviously rubbed off on the national team as the they trounced Djibouti 6-0 for the largest victory of the round.
Madagascar too strong
The Barea of Madagascar, who have the advantage of playing both matches at home due to the unrest in the Central African Republic, were two goals up at half-time through Michael Rabeson and Njiva Rakotoharimalala and Paul Johann added a third after the break.
Brave Warriors' plan comes good
Namibia coach Ricardo Mannetti was satisfied with his sides' 1-1 draw in Gambia and is confident of getting the victory they need at home. The Brave Warriors led through Thailand-based Willy Stephanus until seven minutes from the end when Savage Demba equalised. “This is our best result away from home maybe since 2011,” said the coach, who is sweating over the availability of Denzil Haoseb for the return leg after the defender received a cut to his head.
Zebras return to rich hunting grounds
English coach Peter Butler and Botswana won away 2-0 to Eritrea, and will return to Francistown to host the second leg confident of their advancement in a stadium where they recently shocked Burkina Faso.
Liberia look to correct
Liberia need to score at least a goal in Guinea Bissau if they want to remain in the competition. Coach James Debbah, who rued several missed chances in the 1-1 draw in Monrovia in the first leg, is looking for goals from the likes of Francis Grandpa Doe and William Jerboe. The latter scored his side's only goal from the penalty spot but goalkeeper Jonas Mendes stood out the rest of the way.
Taifa Stars shining
Although ranked 35 places behind Malawi, Tanzania take a 2-0 lead into the return leg in Blantyre. The Flames' coach Ernest Mtawali has re-called Big Bullets' striker Chiukepo Msowoya in the hopes of getting the goals they need to overturn the deficit. He is also being pressured to include goalkeeper Richard Chipuwa after Simplex Nthala looked shaky against the Taifa Stars.
South Sudan shoot for upset
South Sudan played their first-ever World Cup match on Wednesday against Mauritania, and they also scored their first goal through Dominic Abui Pretino, who equalised Boubacar Bagili's early goal. The match was abandoned due to torrential rain and resumed the next day without incident. The sides go into Tuesday's return leg with the tie evenly poised.
Player to watch
Niger fans are thrilled that Moussa Maazou decided to come back to the Mena after earlier announcing his retirement. The striker, who enjoyed several successful seasons in Europe and now plays in China PR, scored both goals for Niger as they secured a 2-0 win in Somalia to take a huge advantage into the home leg.
36 - The number of World Cup qualifiers that South Sudan, Eritrea, Seychelles, Comoros and Somalia have played without a victory. Between them the countries have drawn ten games and lost 26.
What they said
“We are not strangers to this task. We are focused firmly on the match Sunday, and I really hope the fans will come out to support us once again so that we can finish the job and advance,” Kenya captain Victor Wanyama about defending a 5-2 win from the first leg at home.
First leg results
Comoros 0–0 Lesotho
Seychelles 0–1 Burundi
Tanzania 2–0 Malawi
Mauritius 2–5 Kenya
South Sudan 1–1 Mauritania
Sao Tome and Principe 1–0 Ethiopia
Liberia 1–1 Guinea-Bissau
Somalia 0–2 Niger
Djibouti 0–6 Swaziland
Gambia 1–1 Namibia
Central African Republic 0-3 Madagascar
Eritrea 0-2 Botswana
Chad 1-0 Sierra Leone