There has been a familiar look about Africa’s representatives at recent FIFA World Cups™ with Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire featuring at both South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014. However, ahead of the CAF Russia 2018 qualifying draw in Cairo on Friday, it seems likely that the run which that quintet have enjoyed since 2010 could come to an end.
Tunisia and Senegal, in fact, will go into the proverbial hat as one of the five seeded teams, while Nigeria and Cameroon find themselves in the group of second and third seeds respectively. That means that one of the five groups could potentially have three of the last five finalists, and with only the top team from each group qualifying for Russia, that would leave the coast clear for at least two newcomers advancing from the other groups.
That, of course, does not mean that Russia 2018 will see an African rookie. That is perhaps unlikely, even though Cape Verde Islands and Mali – two teams that have yet to make it to the showpiece event of world football – have been placed among the second seeds.
Few coaches, if any, have as much knowledge of the African game as Claude Le Roy, who holds the record of having coached eight teams at the finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. His interest in the draw on Friday, will, however, be of an academic nature as he resigned as Congo coach after guiding them into the group phase of the qualifiers. He has since taken over Togo, who had already been knocked out when he was appointed. But he tells FIFA.com that he can see surprises on the horizon. “I can see some different names emerging at the end of the qualifiers. I think Senegal are very strong and another of my former teams, Congo DR, will also have a chance. The draw is very important. You can get a good draw, which makes the road to Russia possible, or you can get a bad draw that makes it very difficult.”
Côte d’Ivoire is amongst the favourites to grab one of the five World Cup berths. It is a position that coach Michel Dussuyer is well aware of. “We are African champions and are a top seed, so automatically we are one of the favourites, and that is normal,” he told FIFA.com. “At this level, there are only good teams. Personally, I’d like to meet teams that I have not had the opportunity to face such as Cape Verde, South Africa and Libya. But no matches will be easy. I would like to avoid Congo DR and Morocco, in particular, as they are currently playing really well. But all the best teams of the continent will be in the draw.”
Like Le Roy, Dussuyer sees Senegal as one of the teams to watch. “They have been in good form for several months. Aliou Cisse has applied his ideas, and the results prove that he is on track. Also on track are Congo DR, which has a really good team. The other team I think will be strong are Morocco, as they have excellent players and a coach, Herve Renard, who knows Africa very well.”
Pharaohs looking for the glory days
One of the teams desperate for a place in Russia is Egypt. Although their seven AFCON titles, including three in a row starting in 2006, remains a record, their last appearance at the World Cup was back in 1990, when many of the current Pharaohs’ players were not even born. Having knocked Nigeria out of qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations and with an experienced coach – Hector Cuper – at the helm, hopes are sky-high for supporters.
Moving in the other direction appear to be South Africa and Cameroon, who between them can look back at ten World Cup appearances, but will have a mountain to climb as they are ranked as third seeds and therefore likely to face some tough opposition.
It is a fate that Congo share, and their coach Pierre Lechantre tells FIFA.com that he is aware that it will not be easy for the Diables Rouges to qualify. “We may face very strong teams. The worst draw for us is a group composed of Algeria, Congo DR and Zambia. Algeria is the best African team at the moment. Congo DR has been getting excellent results for two years, and is another team in good form. As for Zambia, I faced them with Congo in March in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, and they made a good impression and are hard to beat.
“A much better group would consist of Tunisia, Cape Verde and Libya, a country I know well because I used to coach Al-Ittihad Tripoli, where many international players come from.”
The Frenchman said he can see several newcomers pushing for a place in Russia. “I believe my own team, Congo, has a chance. And then there are Congo DR, Senegal, which were outstanding in qualifying for the Nations Cup, and Mali, where Alain Giresse is doing an excellent job.”
The four pots for the draw are as follows:
Pot 1: Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Tunisia
Pot 2: Cape Verde Islands, Egypt, Congo DR, Nigeria, Mali
Pot 3: Cameroon, Morocco, Guinea, South Africa, Congo
Pot 4: Uganda, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Gabon, Libya