Africa’s World Cup qualifying campaign is almost over, with only two more matches to play and all five of the continent’s representatives in Russia already decided.
Over the last year, we’ve been treated to a fascinating tangle between Africa’s top sides, with Nigeria, Senegal and Egypt securing their spots in Russia with a game to spare, and Morocco and Tunisia booking their tickets in their final fixtures.
In this feature, KwesÃ©ESPN review the African qualifying campaign in its entirety and pick out the five matches where World Cup places were won and lost.
Group A: 5.9.2017 – Democratic Republic of Congo 2-2 Tunisia – Group A ultimately went down to the wire, and a late Libyan goal in Rades in Tunisia’s final fixture would have put them out and sent the Congolese to the World Cup.
In truth, however, it was the North Africans’ to throw away from September, when they took four points from their doubleheader against the Leopards.
After losing the first match, Congo could still have retaken the initiative in the group if they’d won at home in Kinshasa.
They were 2-0 up after 47 minutes following Chancel Mbemba’s opener and Paul-Jose M’Poku’s effort, only to capitulate inside the last 15 minutes.
Under increasing pressure, the unfortunate Wilfred Moke put past his own keeper in the 77th minute, and Tunisia rescued a point two minutes later when Anice Badri equalised after an inspiring comeback, with Youssef Msakni and substitute Fakhreddine Ben Youssef the key architects of their draw.
Group B: 1.9.2017 – Nigeria 4-0 Cameroon – Nigeria started the qualifying campaign strongly, and the importance of taking six points from games against Zambia away and Algeria at home cannot be understated.
Indeed, the second triumph really heaped pressure on the North Africans and surely hastened their implosion.
However, truly critical, perhaps, was the way they devastated Cameroon in early September. It was a statement victory over Africa’s champions that not only put the Super Eagles seven points clear of the Indomitable Lions, but also came as an ominous sign to both the Fennecs and Chipolopolo.
Nigeria’s magnificent offensive display will also have buoyed the atmosphere in the camp, with the Eagles having come in for some criticism following their Nations Cup qualifying defeat by South Africa.
Group C: 5.9.2017 – Ivory Coast 1-2 Gabon – Perhaps the only really notable result of Marc Wilmots’ unhappy tenure was the 3-0 victory away in Gabon in September.
It was an ideal response to Morocco’s 6-0 rout of Mali the day before and ensured that the Elephants retained their two-point advantage – and the psychological edge – over Herve Renard’s Atlas Lions.
However, in the return fixture in Bouake three days later, the Elephants started sluggishly, were exposed defensively, and never recovered after falling two goals down inside the first half an hour.
They pulled one back through Maxwell Cornet in the 58th minute, but the damage had been done.
Despite boasting some of the finest attacking talents in the continent, they weren’t to find the net again in their next 212 minutes of qualifying action, limping out of contention with a 2-0 defeat at home by Morocco on Saturday.
Group D: 7.10.2017 – Cape Verde 0-2 Senegal – Senegal suffered a qualifying blow on September 5 when they conceded an 88th-minute equaliser from Burkina Faso’s Alain Traore to draw 2-2 away in Ouagadougou.
A day later, they were handed a boost when they learned that the qualifier they’d lost against South Africa in November 2016 was to be replayed due to corrupt refereeing but still needed to win away at a Cape Verde side boosted by their pair of victories over Bafana Bafana.
In truth, the Lions of Teranga laboured against their well-organised opponents but got the breakthrough when Diafra Sakho struck in the 81st minute, before adding a second through Cheikh N’Doye.
That victory left Aliou Cisse’s side needing just two points from their final two fixtures – both against South Africa – to reach their second World Cup.
Group E: 5.9.2017 – Egypt 1-0 Uganda – The Pharaohs only really suffered one slip up on the road to Russia – when they were defeated 1-0 in Namboole by the Cranes – but it could have been a different story if they hadn’t seen off Uganda in the return fixture the week later.
Having put up such a dogged and resilient display in front of their own fans, the East Africans will have fancied their chances of getting a result away in Alexandria, while Egypt had every right to be wary.
Despite an imperious Denis Onyango showing, Egypt sidestepped a potential banana skin when Mohamed Salah – increasingly the man for the occasion – settled home nerves in the sixth minute.