13 different African teams have qualified for the World Cup during the tournament’s history, with Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal all having reached the quarter-finals—the continent’s best finishes to date.
With Russia 2018 less than two years away, the third round of the Caf qualifying campaign kicks off this weekend, but which of the 20 nations left standing will reach the promised land?
Tunisia are the hot favourites to qualify from this pool, surely the easiest of the five. However, we’re backing the Democratic Republic of Congo—bronze medallists at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations—to reach their first World Cup since 1974 (as Zaire).
The Leopards have bolstered their Afcon squad by trawling their extensive European diaspora, and the likes of Marcel Tisserand, Britt Assombalonga and Cedric Bakambu make them a fearsome prospect. In Yannick Bolasie, they also possess one of Africa’s outstanding players.
At least three of the sides in the ‘Group of Death’ would have been confident of being favourites for qualification in any of the other pools, with Zambia, the fourth, African champions less than four years ago.
Cameroon have qualified for the World Cup more times than any other African nation and Nigeria are hopeful they’re on the cusp of a bright new era, however, it’s hard to look beyond Algeria, who were rampant in Afcon qualification and—in Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Yacine Brahimi—boast some of the continent’s most deadly attacking talents.
Gabon can call upon Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang—arguably Africa’s best player today—we’re expecting Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire to contest top spot. While the continental champions have moved to replace the departing members of the Golden Generation with talents such as Jean Seri, Frank Kessie and Eric Bailly, it’s surely written in the stars that Morocco coach Herve Renard will deny his former club a return to the continental high table.
The North Africans can call on a host of attacking midfielders, and the French manager’s impact was evident during a flawless Afcon qualifying campaign.
Despite some signs of optimism during the 2016 Olympics, abject failure in Nations Cup qualifying was a setback for South Africa and suggested that Bafana Bafana are still some way away from achieving Vision 2022.
Having fallen well short of Cameroon during that campaign, we can’t see them ousting Senegal—the only team to enjoy a 100 percent record during Afcon qualification—who should have far too much for Burkina Faso and Cape Verde as well.
Ghana have enjoyed steady progress under Avram Grant, qualifying for the Afcon having barely broken a sweat following a fine campaign in Equatorial Guinea.
However, the Israeli coach will be cautiously aware of the brooding presence of Egypt—an emerging force in the continent after years in the doldrums.
The Black Stars dumped the Pharaohs out of the running for the 2014 event, and we’re backing them to do the same again…just!