The African Qualifiers (group stage) for the 2022 World Cup slated for Qatar take off from Wednesday, September 2021, across the Continent. 40 teams are competing in 10 African groups, with only the group winners to proceed to the home-and-away playoffs in March 2022, which will determine the 5 teams to represent Africa at the tournament in Qatar in September 2022.
This is a preview of the various groups.
Group A: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Djibouti
Ranked 3rd in Africa and 30th in the world, defending African Champions, Algeria will certainly fancy this group, being the highest-ranked team and arguably the strongest among the four. Nicknamed the ‘Desert Foxes’, the North African giants are seeking their fifth ever World Cup appearance and a first since 2014. Algeria first qualified to the World Cup as far back as 1982 after beating Niger and Nigeria in the third and final rounds to earn a place at the tournament in Spain. They subsequently made it to Mexico in 1986, following their 7-1 aggregate triumph over North African rivals Tunisia in the final round. However, it took the two-time African Champions more than two decades to return to the world stage, qualifying for 2010 final in South Africa and the 2014 Brazil showpiece. Again Algeria failed in their third consecutive attempt to qualify for the World Cup, following their poor outing in the qualifiers, having finished last in their group and missing out on the 2018 edition in Russia. Led by an African legend and AFCON Winning Manager, Djamel Belmadi, plus the ingenuity of Manchester City Star and Captain Riyad Mahrez, ‘The Fennecs’ stand as huge favourites to progress from this rather less experienced group.
The Stallions of Burkina Faso are ranked 11th in Africa and 62nd in the world. With their pedigree on the continent, they come in as the next favourite team to progress in this group, however, they are yet to make an appearance on the global stage. The west African country first participated in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in 1978, under the name Upper Volta. They have since been involved in seven CAF World Cup Qualifiers and have come close to securing qualification twice – 2010 and 2014, losing to Ivory Coast and Algeria in the final rounds. There’s absolutely no doubt about their strength and experience when it comes to the Continent’s Flagship Competition(AFCON), having participated 12 times and finishing as runners-up in 2013-their best run. Nonetheless, they will need more than just that to secure their first-ever ticket to the World Cup, especially with the absence of former top players, Jonathan Pitroipa and Aristide Bance who both retired after their last World Cup qualifiers. Again, the campaign could prove more challenging because of the inexperience on the part of the Head Coach, Kamou Malo, on the international stage. Malo is a former footballer and was appointed in 2019. Despite his success in the Burkinabe Premier League, winning two titles, he has never had any stint with any national team until his appointment. Nevertheless, the 58-year-old brought a sigh of relief when he immediately qualified the stallions to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, after missing out on the last edition under the guidance of former Portuguese gaffer Paulo Duarte. History beckons Malo who could cement his name in the list of a few local coaches to have guided their countries to the World Cup. He possesses a squad with a good balance of young and experienced players. Notable ones include Veteran Skipper, Charles Kabore, who is the country’s most capped player and former Chelsea and now with Aston Villa, striker, Bertrand Traore.
Niger is ranked 29th in Africa and 117th in the world. Despite their involvement in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers on seven different occasions, Niger face another uphill campaign of breaking the jinx to qualify for a maiden world cup appearance. The chances of the ‘Menas’ progressing ahead of powerhouses Algeria and Burkina Faso might look slim but head coach Jean-Michael Cavalli is yet to give up on realizing the country’s dream of making it to Qatar. Appointed in 2020, former Algeria and Lille Coach has extensive experience in African football, having managed some top clubs including Wydad Casablanca, Al Hilal Omdurman and USM Alger. One of Niger’s best performances was in the 1982 World Cup Qualifiers in which they eliminated Somalia and Togo on the away goals rule, but were beaten by Algeria in the third round where only eight teams were left. Notable players in this run included Jacques Komlan, Hassane Adamou and Moussa Confident. Today they boast of one of the fast-rising stars on the continent, Victorien Adebayor, who plays for Legon Cities in Ghana’s top flight. The 24- year- old has scored 10 goals in 33 appearances for the Menas and recently netted the only goal in their 2-1 defeat to Guinea in an international friendly. A lot will be required from not just Adebayor, but the entire playing body, if they are to upstage the bigwigs and grab the sole ticket to the next round.
Djibouti played their first international match under the name French Somaliland, at home against neighbouring Ethiopia on 5th December 1947 and lost 5–0. The East Africans did not play a match again until 1960 when they took part in a tournament for French-Speaking countries held in Madagascar. Nicknamed the ‘Shoremen of the Red Sea’ Djibouti entered its first-ever World Cup qualification in an attempt to reach the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan. They bowed out at the preliminary round after losing 10-2 on aggregate over two legs to DR Congo. They staged a return in the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers and made history by winning their first-ever FIFA-sanctioned international match following their 1-0 victory over Somalia in the first round. This feat was repeated in 2019 when they defeated Eswatini 2-1 over two legs to advance to the second round of the Qatar 2022 Qualifiers. And the man who led them to this stage is French Coach, Juliene Mette, who is handling a national team for the first time in his career. The 39-year- old who was appointed in March 2019 had only managed Congolese Premier League Clubs Tongo and AS Otoho. Djibouti has never played in the African Cup of Nations, with the team regularly withdrawing or failing to qualify. The Shoremen of the Red Sea narrowly missed out on the 2021 AFCON earlier this year and must quickly refocus on their quest to make history at the World Cup Qualifiers by going beyond the second round- a stage that has perennially proven too strong to overcome. They are ranked 50th in Africa and 182nd in the world.
Group B: Tunisia, Zambia, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea
The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia, Chipolopolo of Zambia, Lions of Chinguetti of Mauritania and the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea have been drawn in Group B for a place in the final round of the FIFA World Cup, Qatar 2022.
Tunisia is the most experienced team in this group has made 5 appearances – 1978, 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2018. The Carthage Eagles have continued to perform at a consistently high level in recent years despite frequent changes of the coach. The Tunisia Football Federation, (FTF) began a new project focusing on a new generation of players. The FTF then appointed a Local Trainer, Mondher Kebaier, who they considered well equipped to lead Tunisia to new heights – and the results have been amazing since then. The North Africans are highly tipped to win the group.
Despite gaining ground on the African Continent, Zambia’s near misses at the World Cup is an interesting charade. The new generation of Zambia footballers which include Patson Daka of Leicester City, Fashin Sakala of Rangers and Enock Mwepu of Brighton & Hove Albion have all promised to have Zambia make their debut at the World Cup.
Mauritania’s first-ever World Cup qualifier was a 1-2 defeat to Upper Volta in 1976 which effectively ended their dreams. They have also played in the qualifiers for 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups. Frenchman Corentin Martins has coached this team since 2014, a decision that is gradually paying off as he led Mauritania to their first-ever AFCON tournament in 2019. They could be the surprise package of the group.
Equatorial Guinea has never been involved in the World Cup Qualifiers. Despite the country’s efforts to recruit players who have little or no ties to the country, they continue to be unimpressive. They are tipped to be the underdogs in the group.
40 teams are competing in 10 African groups, with only the group winners to proceed to the home-and-away playoffs in March 2021, which will determine five African qualifiers for the final in Qatar in September 2022.