With the second of six matches to be played in the group phase of the CAF qualifying campaign this weekend, the stakes are getting higher for the 20 remaining African teams on the road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
The big game
Nigeria v Algeria
Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon have represented the continent at the last two finals and going into the draw for the third round all three of them would have fancied their chances of making it three in a row. Fate, however, dealt them a heavy blow as the three powerhouses of African football – who between them can look back at 16 appearances at the World Cup finals – were drawn together in Group B. This ensures that there is a match featuring two finalists from the 2010 and 2014 competitions every match day.
This time around it is Nigeria and Algeria who do battle as the North Africans face the Super Eagles on Saturday in Uyo, with Nigerian coach Gernot Rohr confident after his team won their opener in Zambia. “Algeria will come very well prepared for us. It was good for us that we won in Ndola, and we are the only team that has three points after the first round of matches.” The former Bordeaux and Bayern Munich player can again call on a whole host of Premier League players, with Mikel John Obi, Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa leading the charge.
Nigeria go into the game on the back of a run of four victories (Mali and Luxemburg in friendlies, Tanzania in a CAF Africa Cup of Nations game and the first World Cup qualifier in Zambia), with Iheanacho scoring in all four of them. Algeria drew their first match at home against Cameroon, and the Fennecs will be worried about a defeat leaving them five points off the pace of the Super Eagles with just four matches to play.
If Nigeria against Algeria is the standout match of the round, Senegal's trip to South Africa in Group D must rank as a close second. The west Africans won their opening match 2-0 against Cape Verde, while Bafana played to a 1-1 draw in Burkina Faso. Having missed out on qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, Shakes Mashaba is under pressure to take the team to Russia, even though Senegal are considered the group favourites.
Another stand-out match is taking place in Marrakech, where Herve Renard's Moroccan team comes up against Côte d'Ivoire, with whom the French coach won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015. The Elephants won their opening Group C game against Mali, while Morocco played to a goalless draw in Gabon.
North African rivals Libya and Tunisia kick off proceedings in a match moved to Algiers on Friday night in Group A, with Guinea hosting Congo DR two days later. As both away sides won their opening games, it will be up to the home sides to get their campaigns back on track with a victory.
Players to watch
Ahead of their home match against Zambia, Cameroon coach Hugo Broos has insisted in sticking with Benjamin Moukandjo as captain despite pressure to re-instate veteran Stephen Mbia, who failed to even make the squad. The 27-year-old Lorient forward scored the equaliser against Algeria on the last matchday, and how he responds to his coach’s faith could go some way to determining the future for Broos and the Indomitable Lions.
On the last matchday, South Africa goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was in great form despite battling a stomach bug. The Kaiser Chiefs veteran saved a penalty from Burkina Faso’s Jonathan Pitroipa, saw another spot-kick missed by Alain Traore and made a string of top-drawer saves although Bafana conceded a last-gasp equaliser. If he can keep the vaunted Senegalese attack off the scoresheet, it would be the first time they have been shut out in a competitive match since January 2015.
Did you know?
Being drawn against Ghana in Group E must have caused nightmares for Egyptian fans. In the run up to Brazil 2014, the Black Stars crushed Egypt’s long-simmering hopes of a World Cup spot with a 6-1 hiding in the first leg of a two-legged tie. The Pharaohs will try for revenge on Sunday in Alexandria.
What they said
"There will be a significant emotional aspect, but we will have to ignore all that because we will face Côte d'Ivoire, which is always difficult. It will be tough but we have to be competitors,"
Herve Renard on his Morocco side facing his previous team