World Cup qualifying: Predicting Africa’s five qualifiers

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Mohamed Salah of Egypt, Nigeria's Kelechi Iheanacho
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Ed Dove predicts the five teams who will emerge victorious across this week’s playoffs

  1. African World Cup playoffs

    African World Cup playoffs

    An extended and gruelling qualifying campaign, involving all of Africa’s national sides, boils down to this week’s playoffs, as 10 teams become five on the road to Qatar.

    There’s plenty of intrigue around the quintet of double-headers—coming so soon after the Africa Cup of Nations—particularly as some of the continent’s biggest sides are set to go head to head.

    Ahead of Friday’s first legs, GOAL’s Ed Dove gives his predictions on each of the five match-ups…and predicts which five teams will reach Qatar.

  2. Nigeria
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    Nigeria

    The Super Eagles romped through the Nations Cup group stage—winning all three matches—only to fall at the Last 16, while Ghana didn’t even get that far, having been eliminated by the Comoros following a troubled group stage.

    The Black Stars are in disarray after parting ways with Milovan Rajevac, with the delay in announcing Otto Addo and Chris Hughton’s squad further adding to the suspicion that Ghana are in disarray heading into this double-header.

    Nigeria aren’t in great state either—they’re without first-choice goalkeeper Maduka Okoye and key midfielder Wilfred Ndidi—while they’ll also have to contend with a packed, passionate Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi in Friday’s first leg.

    Nonetheless, Ghana will be without suspended Andre Ayew, and they appear to be at too early a stage of their revival to resist Super Eagles who, by contrast, can welcome back some firepower after the Nations Cup.

  3. Senegal
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    Senegal

    In arguably the most compelling of all five qualifying double-headers, Senegal and Egypt will go toe to toe in a rematch of the Nations Cup final.

    Less than two months after Senegal defeated the Pharaohs on penalties in the final in Yaounde, Liverpool brothers Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will collide again with similarly hefty stakes.

    While the North Africans will be eyeing revenge—and can enjoy home advantage in the first leg—Senegal have momentum on their side after their Afcon victory, and man for man, should have enough to eclipse the Pharaohs.

  4. Tunisia
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    Tunisia

    Mali and Tunisia are also renewing hostilities after clashing at the Nations Cup, with the West Africans winning that last meeting 1-0 in match overshadowed by the antics of referee Janny Sikazwe.

    Over two legs, Mali can again be confident of getting the result—particularly if they can assert themselves in the contest and take their chances.

    However, as the Eagles demonstrated at the Nations Cup, they can wilt in the biggest contests when the pressure is on, while Tunisia—seasoned World Cup qualifiers—have the experience and the big-game mentality to navigate this kind of challenge.

    Mali likely need to break through a mental barrier in order to qualify, and the Carthage Eagles are unlikely to be accommodating.

  5. Algeria
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    Algeria

    2019 African champions are a wounded animal after their Nations Cup campaign ended in bitter disappointment and a premature group-stage exit.

    No one had expected that Algeria’s title defence would go so badly, particularly as they entered the tournament on the back of a record undefeated streak, yet one point from three group games was a desperate return.

    They’re much better than that points tally suggests—as highlighted by the dominant statistics they posted in their first two group stage matches—and we’re backing them to roar back in style against Cameroon.

    In contrast to the Fennecs, the Indomitable Lions probably aren’t as good as their third-place finish at the Afcon suggests, and Rigobert Song has had little time to prepare the team following the departure of Toni Conceicao.

  6. Morocco
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    Morocco

    Morocco, like a few of the other big dogs heading into these qualifiers, look vulnerable as they aim to bounce back from the fallout of a troubled Nations Cup.

    A strong start gave way to a limp extra-time exit at the hands of Egypt, as the Atlas Lions ran out of ideas and the absence of Hakim Ziyech was keenly felt.

    The playmaker had been cut from the squad after falling foul of Vahid Halilhodzic, and duly called time on his international career after the tournament as the Moroccan Federation opted to stick with the Bosnian coach.

    Noussair Mazraoui of Ajax, another who didn’t see eye to eye with the coach, has also cut ties with the national side, and there will be severe repercussions for coach and federation if Morocco don’t progress past the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The only side left in the qualifiers who didn’t reach the Nations Cup, the DRC can’t be ruled out—particularly considering their immense home support in Kinshasa—but they’re outsiders against a well-oiled Moroccan machine.