• No team can book a ticket to Russia 2018 at this stage
  • Algeria and Ghana already under pressure
  • Congo DR face fellow high-flyers Tunisia, Egypt can take big step
The scenes of joy and jubilation may have to wait, but expect intrigue aplenty in the upcoming round of African Zone qualifiers. Although no team stands poised to clinch a berth at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, several nations can take a major stride towards the global showcase. For the rest, including some of the continent's biggest names, the next 90 minutes will be all about keeping the qualification dream alive.

FIFA.com recaps the state of play ahead of the third round of matches, due to be held between 31 August and 2 September.

REMINDER: Only the top teams in each group qualify for Russia 2018

Group A: As it stands
Having both made perfect starts after two games, Tunisia and Congo DR meet in Rades for the first instalment of a crucial double-header. This match, and the return encounter in Kinshasa four days later, could play a key role in deciding who travels to Russia – not that rival duo Guinea and Libya have given up hope. The section stragglers will lock horns desperate to keep themselves in the hunt with a first win, or at least avoid a defeat that would surely leave them plotting a better outcome ahead of Qatar 2022.

Group B: As it stands
Nigeria raced out of the blocks with two wins from two games and already boast a four-point lead over Cameroon, who kicked off with a pair of draws. The Super Eagles can now bolster their advantage at home to their closest pursuers, knowing victory would ease the pressure for their trip to face the Indomitable Lions a few days later. The pressure on Algeria is mounting, in contrast, and they can ill afford any further slips if they hope to reach a third consecutive World Cup – starting away to Zambia.

Group C: As it stands
Côte d'Ivoire are the sole team to have posted a win so far in this evenly balanced group, having seen off Mali to take early command. Les Elephants hold top spot on four points, but that could all change quickly if they lose away to  Gabon, with both the Panthers and Morocco – who tackle Mali – able to leapfrog them in the standings. It all adds up to a tight situation, and the tension only looks set to increase once the dust has settled. 

Group D: As it stands
Section favourites Senegal lost in South Africa last time out and will be keen to bounce back at home to Burkina Faso, who have quietly risen to the summit thanks to a better goal difference than Bafana Bafana. Eager to live up to their billing, Senegal are now bent on grabbing an eye-catching triumph, while South Africa hope to maintain momentum with victory away to Cape Verde Islands, beaten in their opening two games.

Group E: As it stands
Continental heavyweights Egypt have grown weary of missing out on the World Cup since 1990, but that spell on the sidelines could be about to end. With Argentinian coach Hector Cuper at the reins, the Pharaohs can take another big step back towards the promised land with a win away to nearest rivals Uganda, though not everyone hopes they prevail. Fellow big guns Ghana need the section leaders to drop points while plotting a perfect course through their own qualifiers, beginning with a home victory against  Congo.

Exclusive interviews with FIFA.com
See what some of the key protagonists are saying:
- Christian Bassogog (Cameroon)
- Farouk Miya (Uganda)
- Brice and Ryan Moon (South Africa)
- Sebastien Migne (Congo)
- Julio Tavares (Cape Verde Islands)