All but one of the 54 CAF members took at least the first step on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, with the first 13 advancing and eliminated in turn after home-and-away ties in mid-October. The lucky 13 were then joined by 27 seeded teams for 20 more two-legged ties, which took place in November.
After those two rounds, Africa was left with 20 nations standing, which will be drawn into five groups of four teams with the round-robin matches to be played between October 2016 and November 2017. The five group winners qualify for the 21st World Cup in Russia.
Chad 1-0 Egypt, N'Djamena, 14 November 2015
Even though Chad had already surprised Sierra Leone in the first round of qualifiers, Les Sao were given no chance when they were drawn against seven-time African champions Egypt in the second. The Pharaohs were overwhelming favourites even for the first leg in the Chad capital of N'Djamena, but at the end of 90 minutes it was the home fans who were cheering after Ezechiel Ndouassel scored the only goal of the game midway through the second half. Even though the North Africans managed to turn things around in the return leg, this 1-0 result will go down as one of the greatest upsets seen in African World Cup qualifying.
While the first round of the qualifiers provided a number of upsets – like Chad advancing or Comoros eliminating Lesotho – the number of surprises in the second round were virtually all restricted to single games. Springing to mind in this respect were Swaziland holding Nigeria to a draw, and Ghana's drawing 0-0 in the Comoros. The only surprise packages in the group phase are Morocco, who eliminated the higher-ranked Equatorial Guinea, and Libya, who overcame Rwanda.
Player to watch
Islam Slimani is no newcomer to World Cup football, having scored the opening goal for Algeria in their 4-2 win against the Korea Republic at Brazil 2014, and his headed goal in the 1-1 draw against Russia helped Les Fennecs through to the second round. Slimani, who plays his club football for Sporting Lisbon, continued his rich scoring form in the qualifiers, grabbing both goals in a 2-2 draw in the away leg in Tanzania and adding another brace as the North Africans comfortably won the return leg 7-0. Algerian fans are counting on Slimani's goals to secure a third consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals.
13 – The number of countries that have represented Africa at the World Cup finals. The only two countries that have previously made it through to the finals but are no longer involved in the qualifying campaign are Angola (knocked out by South Africa) and Togo, who lost 4-0 on aggregate to Uganda.
What they said
“The days of easy World Cup qualifiers in Africa are long gone. Today, all the countries are strong and no team can expect a simple match,” Nigeria coach Sunday Oliseh, who played on the Super Eagles teams that made waves at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.
The 20 teams left in African qualifying will be looking toward the CAF headquarters in Cairo on 24 June 2016, where they will be drawn into the five groups of four teams. As all but two of the second round ties (Libya v Rwanda and Morocco v Equatorial Guinea) went according to their ranking, all the African powerhouses remain in the running with the goal of reaching Russia and perhaps becoming the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.