CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Egypt look likely to be the next African nation to win a place in the playoffs for next year’s World Cup, with the winners of the continent’s 10 qualifying groups to be known next week.
The second phase of the African preliminaries will conclude after a whirlwind six days of qualifying games, with two rounds sandwiched between Thursday and next week.
Only group winners go to the final round playoffs in March – for five berths in Qatar – and Egypt should comfortably join Morocco and Senegal before the conclusion of their campaign.
An away victory in Angola on Friday will ensure top place. Yet even if they do not win, their four-point lead in Group F over second place Libya means that if Libya drop points in Gabon at the same time then Egypt could secure top spot with a draw.
Egypt appointed Carlos Queiroz as their coach in September despite a winning start to the campaign under his predecessor Hossam Al Badary. Home-and-away success over Libya last month marked the perfect start to the 68-year-old Portuguese coach’s reign.
“The team played with competence and character. It was nice to enjoy a good start, but a good start alone is not enough,” he said. “This is all about finishing with success.”
Tunisia, who were also at the last World Cup finals in Russia, will win their group on Saturday with an away success at Equatorial Guinea. But other groups may come down to potentially thrilling showdowns on the final matchday with some of Africa’s World Cup regulars facing the threat of elimination.
CAMEROON ON EDGE
Cameroon, whose seven past trips to World Cup finals is the most by any African country, are expected to have to win their last qualifier at home against the Ivory Coast in Yaounde on Tuesday to advance.
It is a heavyweight clash that comes just two months before Cameroon are to host the Africa Cup of Nations finals. They sit one point behind the Ivorians in the Group D.
The Ivory Coast’s hopes have been hit by Wilfried Zaha’s withdrawal. The Crystal Palace attacker has asked to sit out the two matches because he says he has not recovered from a virus picked up on his last trip to Africa in October.
Ghana and South Africa are also expected to play a Group G decider at Cape Coast on Sunday while Mali and Uganda’s meeting in Agadir the same day could also decide the outcome of Group E,
Nigeria should qualify at the expense of the tiny Cape Verde Islands, as long as there is no repeat of the shock home loss they suffered last month to lowly-ranked Central African Republic.
The top 10 group victors will be drawn into five playoff ties in March, from which the aggregate winners go on to represent the continent in Qatar.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)