- Final matchday in Africa, with three qualifying slots still to be determined
- Nigeria and Egypt have already advanced to Russia 2018
- Three matches in Group D, including a South Africa-Senegal replay
With just five 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying berths available in the African Zone, the campaign was always going to be tense and hard-fought, and the fact that three of the groups still hang in the balance ahead of the final matchday is testament to that. While Nigeria and Egypt are already planning for Russia next year, Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal – the current leaders in Groups A, C and D respectively – have significant hurdles to negotiate before joining them.
FIFA.com runs the rule over the fixtures on Matchday 6 – including the replayed game between South Africa and Senegal – scheduled to take place between 10 and 14 November.
REMINDER: Only the five group winners will qualify for Russia 2018
Tunisia practicallyhave one foot in Russia and are now just 90 minutes away from returning to the World Cup after a 12-year absence. A draw at home to Libya, who have already been eliminated, will be sufficient for Les Aigles de Carthage, and if the spoils are shared in the other match between Congo DR and Guinea, even a defeat would see them reach the promised land. Both qualification contenders will be missing a key player in these crucial encounters: Tunisian wing-back Ali Maaloul is suffering from a thigh injury, while Congolese forward Cedric Bakambu is suspended.
Nigeria, who are already assured of topping this section, will use their final qualifier as their first preparatory match for Russia 2018. The Super Eagles head for Algeria with all of their usual starters, as well as a new goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho, who has recently broken into the first team at Deportivo La Coruna. As for Les Fennecs, who recently appointed national icon Rabah Madjer as coach, their eyes will now turn to the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Cameroon and Zambia, who lock horns in Ndola, are also in the same boat.
An exciting finish awaits in Group C, with the two teams vying for top spot – Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco – set to clash in Abidjan. The Atlas Lions have a slight advantage in that a draw will secure them a place in Russia, while the Ivoirians have no other option but to go all out for the win. Morocco coach Herve Renard is extremely familiar with his team’s opponents, having guided Les Éléphants to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, but he may have to do without one of his star players, Juventus centre-back Mehdi Benatia, who is nursing an injury. Renard’s counterpart, Marc Wilmots, will be missing two experienced heads on the pitch – Jean-Michael Seri (injury) and Eric Bailly (suspension) – but will be gaining another two off it, as legendary figures Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure have been called in to motivate the players in the run-up to the match. In the other game in the group, Gabon will host Mali in Franceville, where the two teams will be playing for nothing but pride.
The decision to replay the match between South Africa and Senegal reignited the battle for qualification in Group D; the door to Russia 2018 consequently remains open for Burkina Faso and Cape Verde. However, should the Lions of Teranga emerge victorious from Friday’s match in Polokwane, the suspense will fade away ahead of the final set of fixtures, as no other team will be able to equal their points total. A draw may be enough for Senegal, in the event that Burkina Faso and Cape Verde also draw on Tuesday. And even if South Africa pick up three points in the replayed encounter, Senegal, who welcome back star winger Sadio Mane from injury, will have a second chance to defeat the same opponents in Dakar four days later.
Like Nigeria, Egypt have already claimed the qualifying slot in Group E, and will use their sixth and final game – an away encounter with Ghana – to begin their preparations for Russia 2018. In the pool’s other match, Uganda, who take on Congo in Brazzaville, will be aiming to end their eye-opening campaign on a high note.
Read our fascinating chats with some of the key figures involved: (add links when the stories are live)
- Youssef Msakni (Tunisia)
- Keagan Dolly (South Africa)
- Khalid Boutaib (Morocco)