International News

Africa’s World Cup qualifying: Six matches to watch

Ed Dove picks out the standout fixtures from this week’s international break

  1. South Africa vs GhanaThese two fallen giants of the African game collide in Johannesburg on September 6, as they compete for supremacy in Group G.The last time they met—during Africa Cup of Nations qualification—they played out a 1-1 draw, but could the arrival of Hugo Broos help Bafana Bafana grab all three points at the FNB Stadium.They may also benefit from the fact that Ghana will be without their Premier League stars due to the ban on UK-based players leaving the country for ‘red listed’ nations.
  2. Nigeria's Super EaglesBackpagePixCape Verde vs NigeriaGernot Rohr will have been delighted when the groups were drawn for World Cup qualification, with the Super Eagles up against the Central African Republic, Liberia and Cape Verde.However, their assignment away against the Sharks in Mindelo has been made significantly tougher after the ban on travelling players from the UK; is there any African nation more reliant on Premier League players than Nigeria?Cape Verde have demonstrated that they can take results from bigger sides at home—they defeated Cameroon as recently as March—and this represents a real banana skin for the Eagles.
  3. Kenya vs UgandaGroup E is one of the pools where there’s real opportunity for all four teams, with none of Mali, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda ever having qualified for the World Cup.If either of the East African brothers are to advance to the Third Round, they surely need to—as a minimum—establish dominance over their neighbours in their matchday one encounter.Their meeting in Nairobi on Thursday is set to be a nervy, cagey, testing fixture, with both knowing just how valuable a victory would be.
  4. Riyad Mahrez - AlgeriaGetty ImagesBurkina Faso vs AlgeriaAfrican champions Algeria head into this international break on a 27-game unbeaten streak, a run that stretches back to 2018.One would expect them to avoid defeat against Djibouti at home on Thursday, and indeed, they will be expected to get a hatful of goals against the Riverains de la Mer Rouge.However, their away game against Burkina Faso on September 7 could be a different story, with the Stallions on the rise after a few years in the doldrums.Will this be the fixture where Algeria’s run comes to an end?
  5. Ivory Coast vs CameroonThe standout fixture of the international break pits two genuine African giants against one another in Abidjan as they look to take a grip on top spot in Group D.The Indomitable Lions are under pressure after missing out on the 2018 World Cup—as the most successful nation in the tournament’s history, it’s simply not acceptable—and they could ill afford to host their own Africa Cup of Nations next year on the back of missing out on WC qualification.However, they’ve been unconvincing under Toni Conceicao, and are outsiders against a star-studded Elephants side away from home.
  6. Mohamed Salah of Egypt vs Kenya.Goal Kenya.Gabon vs EgyptEgypt will be without Mohamed Salah for their home game against Angola, which represents a major blow for the Pharaohs and could put them under pressure from the off.Their second match, away against Gabon, is another tricky fixture, not least because the Panthers can call upon Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has decided to honour the call-up to represent the Central Africans as he looks to inspire them to a fairytale qualification.Egypt are reportedly considering sending a private plane to transport Salah and Mohamed Elneny directly to Gabon for the second fixture, and the prospect of the Liverpool and Arsenal superstars going toe-to-toe is mouth-watering.

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