With only one ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ up for grabs in each of the five groups, competition in the African qualifying competition could not be tougher. With the penultimate round of fixtures looming, Tunisia, Nigeria and Egypt could all secure their passage to the finals with a game to spare. But only the Super Eagles have qualification entirely in their own hands, with the Tunisians and Egyptians hoping for other results in their respective groups to go their way.
FIFA.com looks ahead to the fifth round fixtures, to be played between 6 and 8 October.
REMINDER: Only the top team from each group will qualify for Russia 2018
Tunisia are within touching distance of qualification, and need four points from their final two matches to book their first World Cup appearance in 12 years. They will be hoping to take another step towards qualification with an away win at already-eliminated Guinea. Three points may even end up being enough for the Tunisians, should Congo DR fail to win against Libya in Tunisia, where they latter play their ‘home’ games. And although the Libyans have nothing to play for, were the Congolese to suffer defeat in Monastir, the Carthage Eagles would only need to return from Guinea with a point in order to secure qualification.
The 400,000 inhabitants of Uyo will surely take to the streets in celebration should Nigeria manage to secure qualification with a win over Zambia. However, the Zambians have already put those celebrations on hold following back-to-back wins over Algeria in their last two games. They are now determined to make it three out of three and to keep their dreams of Russia alive. Elsewhere in the group, Cameroon and Algeria have seen their hopes of appearing at a third consecutive World Cup dashed. Both teams will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment with a victory in their dead rubber match in Yaounde.
Côte d’Ivoire missed the chance to ensure a stress-free end to the campaign when they succumbed to defeat at home to struggling Gabon in their last match. That result not only made their upcoming fixture in Mali a must-win game for the Elephants, but it allowed the Panthers to hang on to their qualification hopes ahead of their away match in Morocco. With the Ivorians, Moroccans and Gabonese separated by just two points, this is one group that will surely go down to the wire.
The decision to replay the fixture between South Africa and Senegal in November has reignited the race for qualification in Group D. Burkina Faso and Cape Verde Islands, both on six points after four matches, currently occupy the top spots and will remain in control with wins over South Africa and Senegal respectively. But should the Lions of Teranga, who have a game in hand, pick up maximum points from their three remaining fixtures, they would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors who starred at Korea/Japan 2002. Their first challenge will be take three points away to the Cape Verdeans, who will be in confident mood following back-to-back victories over South Africa. Bafana Bafana are adrift at the foot of the table, having picked up only one point from three matches.
A win over Congo will be enough to send Egypt to Russia, should Uganda fail to beat Ghana the following day. For the Black Stars, who have appeared at the last three World Cups, qualification is no longer in their own hands. Even if they claim a victory away to the high-flying Cranes, the Ghanaians will have to rely on Egypt slipping up at home to a Congo side that has nothing left to play for. At this stage, it is hard to imagine the Pharaohs passing up the opportunity to return to the world’s biggest stage following a 28-year absence.