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An overview of the ten remaining teams in contention for Africa’s 2022 FIFA World Cup slots

The second stage of FIFA World Cup qualifying involving CAF member nations is complete and ten teams will be drawn into home-and-away matchups against each other, with FIFA ranking determining two pots composed of five teams each. Teams from the first pot will be drawn against a team from the second pot. Here are the ten remaining teams followed by Pan-Africa Football’s ranking and breakdown of each team from both pots:

Pot 1

The star power that Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mané bring are a major reason why Algeria and Senegal are the highest rated teams in Pot 1

1. Algeria

FIFA Ranking: 32

What do we know about Algeria? The reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions have been simply unbeatable, extending an African national team record with a 33 game unbeaten run after Tuesday’s 2-2 draw against Burkina Faso. The team has an excellent veteran foundation led by its attack that features veterans including Riyad Mahrez, Sofiane Feghouli and Second Round leading scorer Islam Slimani. The team is well balanced from defense to attack and will approach the final round with maximum confidence.

Who emerged during the group stage? The squad is well established at this point, but Ismaël Bennacer continues his growth into a more major role. Youcef Belaïli has boosted his prospects of starting in the final round with excellent performances during the group stage where he both created and finished opportunities. Ramiz Zerrouki earned a regular starting role at the base of the midfield and Said Benrahma joins Sofiane Feghouli as impactful options to step in if Belaïli or Mahrez are out of form or unavailable.

Areas of weakness: The Fennecs have yet to establish who is the regular starting right back, utilizing a committee of players to fill the role. Manager Belmoudi has also been easing Metz keeper Alexandre Oukidja into the lineup, perhaps indicating that he is not fully confident in Raïs M’Bolhi as a permanent starter. However, the team has experience and talent to call upon in all positions, making a distinct weakness hard to find without nitpicking.

Chances in the final round: The most important thing at this point for Algeria is keeping overconfidence from creeping into the camp. The home draw against Burkina Faso was an excellent warning for the team to understand that the unbeaten run makes the target on their backs bigger and bigger, and how costly it can be to underestimate any opponent. However, the team is well constructed with plenty of playmaking ability and they will be favored regardless of who they are drawn against.

2. Senegal

FIFA Ranking: 20

What do we know about Senegal? The Teranga Lions dominated their group with nobody even coming close to threatening them for first place. Sadio Mané provides the class and ability to change a game, but their array of talented forwards who can change games include Ismaïla Sarr, Krépin Diatta and Keita Baldé. Idrissa Gana Gueye and Kalidou Koulibaly form the defensive spine and Édouard Mendy is Africa’s most highly regarded goalkeeper at the moment.

Who emerged during the group stage? Defenders Bouna Sarr and Abdou Diallo are defenders who were considering representing their country of birth, France, but have been recruited to further fortify the Senegalese cause. Boulaye Dia and Famara Diedhiou continue to battle for who will occupy the lone forward role ahead of Senegal’s dynamic attacking trio in attacking midfield, with Diédhiou perhaps having the edge right now.

Areas of weakness: Senegal were not tested very much on the defensive end, but there were a couple of moments when they were exposed, especially against Namibia. The ability of veteran left back Saliou Ciss to get forward is well established, but can he hold up on the defensive side against a team of equal or greater quality? Are Dia and Diedhiou good enough at this point to be reliable #9’s up top? The fact that the qualifying campaign was so easy and their group so weak makes it so that the weaknesses for Senegal may spring up at the most important times.

Chances in the final round: This team is probably playing the most attractive football of all African national teams, but the lack of competition makes it hard to gauge how good they will be in their final round matchup. However, until then they should be considered the second best team behind Algeria and are certainly favorites against whoever they draw. Their explosiveness and ability to score is something that the Teranga Lions can lean upon and is a trait few teams possess.

3. Morocco

FIFA Ranking: 28

What do we know about Morocco? The Atlas Lions are deep and solid throughout their squad, if not quite as explosive as Algeria and Senegal. Manager Vahid Halihodzic has identified Nayaf Aguerd and Romain Saïss as his center back duo in front of reliable keeper Yassine Bounou and Sofyan Amrabat completes the backbone of the Moroccan defense by sitting in front of the defensive line as a deep lying midfielder. Ayoub El Kaabi’s combination of speed and strength up top rivals any African team when it comes to having a prolific goal scorer, and of course Achraf Hakimi can be influential as either an attacking right back or as a more advanced wing player. Hakim Ziyech is of course a creative mastermind, but it remains to be seen if he will be let back into the team with the current feud between he and Halihodzic still ongoing.

Who emerged during the group stage? Halihodzic has overseen a transformation of the squad and has done well to ensure it has gone smoothly. Aymen Barkok, Imran Louza, and Ryan Mmaee have all transitioned seamlessly into the team and figure to be important for the final round as well as the upcoming AFCON. European-born defenders Adam Masina and Souffian El Karouani are contending for a starting spot to bring depth to the left back position. Finally, playmakers Selim Amallah and Ilyas Chair offer depth in the creative midfielder department to establish the depth in the Atlas Lions.

Areas of weakness: There are not so much weak spots on Morocco as there are questions about where the important moments of inspiration will come from in close games. Hakimi certainly provides a star level presence but with Ziyech perhaps out of the picture for the foreseeable future, it remains to be seen who can produce individual brilliance on a level like Mahrez for Algeria and Mane for Senegal.

Chances in the final round: This Morocco side is a strong one and it says a lot that Halihodzic has told Ziyech and his pompous personality to stay home. The strength of the Atlas Lions lies in the collective group and from the back of the formation to the front, their team is certainly favored in a matchup against any of the Pot 2 sides. The only thing keeping them from being on the level of Algeria and Senegal is the lack of a superstar presence like Mahrez or Mané.

4. Tunisia

FIFA Ranking: 29

What do we know about Tunisia? The Carthage Eagles were cruising through the second round before a slip up at the end briefly jeopardized their chances of qualifying for the final round, but Tunisia’s situation is similar to Morocco. The team has depth and a notable lack of clear weaknesses while having limited superstar power. Wahbi Khazri continues to be the leader and focal point of the attack. Mohamed Drager and Ali Maaloul are reliable attack-minded full backs who make the wings a strength, while Dylan Bronn and Yassine Meriah hold down the center of defense with holding midfielder Ferjani Sassi sitting in front.

Who emerged during the group stage? Manager Mondher Kebaier has a reliable set of veterans and players who have established themselves before this World Cup qualifying campaign. The lone player who has really emerged is defender Montassar Talbi, a tall and physical central presence who impressed in friendly matches over the summer and whose role continues to increase.

Areas of weakness: Tunisia’s number one weakness is the fact that the team lacks a reliable striker up top. The teams ranked above them have established goalscorers such as Islam Slimane or Baghdad Bounedjah (Algeria), Ayoub El Kaabi, Youssef En Nesyri or Munir El Haddadi (Morocco) and any of Senegal’s dynamic winger/forwards. Tunisia depends plenty on Khazri and the remainder of the midfield to provide the scoring touch with a committee of forwards including Naim Sliti, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and Seifeddine Jaziri, players who are only capable rather than difference makers. In general, Tunisia lacks elite game changers in the attack beyond Khazri which can make goals hard to come by against Africa’s top tier.

Chances in the final round: Tunisia is a side that is often underrated because they usually lack the attention grabbing stars like Mahrez and Sane who play in the English Premier League, but this team gets the job done with a squad that is consistent and reliable. Supporters of teams in Pot 2 will hope to get Tunisia, but are likely to be disappointed because the Carthage Eagles are a veteran team that will be at their best when needed and difficult to break down.

5. Nigeria

FIFA Ranking: 36

What do we know about Nigeria? When it comes to Nigeria, it is all about the elite attackers in the side with Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Osimhen. The return of Odion Ighalo adds another reliable goal scorer to the Super Eagles. In addition, quick wing attackers make the Nigerian attack devastating when they are at their best. Wilfried Ndidi is an elite midfielder who will be responsible for helping Nigeria win the midfield battle and restrict the opposition attack.

Who emerged during the group stage? 22-year-old goalkeeper Maduka Okoye has emerged as the goalkeeper of the future for Nigeria and started five of the six FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, supplanting another young keeper in Francis Uzoho. Brentford central midfielder Frank Onyeka and CSKA Moscow winger Chidera Ejuke have also earned minutes, with Onyeka adding to the combativeness of the team while Ejuke’s explosive ability on the dribble makes him a prime candidate to be a super sub. However, the majority of manager Gernot Rohr’s starters appears to be set.

Areas of weakness: It appeared to be smooth sailing for the Super Eagles after two games, but their shocking home loss to Central African Republic injected plenty of doubt about the program’s direction and particularly Rohr’s capabilities as manager. The defense has had their shaky moments, with Leon Balogun in particular being exposed at times. Nigeria is an example of a team that has plenty of talent, but has struggled to build the necessary chemistry and define the roles to form a cohesive unit. This theme goes back to Rohr and leads to plenty of questions about how the team will perform on the upcoming stages of the AFCON and the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Chances in the final round: Nigeria is probably the most vulnerable Pot 1 team to being eliminated at the final stage. The fact that they struggled to navigate one of the easier second stage groups exposed some of the faults in the team. Unless the Super Eagles figure out some of their inconsistencies in the defensive line, they will be dependent on their elite corps of forwards to paper over their weaknesses and this could very well not be enough to get them through the final stage of qualifying.

Pot 2

The combination of Mohamed Salah’s sensational form and a successful start under manager Carlos Queiroz has Egypt as our top ranked team from Pot 2 ahead of the final round of FIFA World Cup qualifying.

1. Egypt

FIFA Ranking: 45

What do we know about Egypt? Mohamed Salah, the player in world football who continues to be the center of discussion. Whoever manages the Pharaohs needs to find a way to build a successful attack around the Liverpool forward, and after the attack sputtered under Hossam El Badry it was Carlos Queiroz who has come in and gotten the job done. The core of Egyptian Premier League players from Al Ahly, Zamalek and Pyramids will support the players based abroad, with Salah, striker Mostafa Mohamed and Mohamed Elneny the most prominent of the latter group.

Who emerged during the group stage? Two players have proven themselves to be options for Queiroz going forward: Zamalek left back Ahmed El Fotouh and 22-year-old VfB Stuttgart forward Omar Marmoush. El Fotouh brings the ability to contribute to the attack from his full back role while Marmoush finally got the opportunity Egyptian supporters wanted him to receive, scoring a massive goal against Libya to turn Egypt’s campaign around. The Egyptian squad’s depth is well established at this point, with Al Ahly attacking stars Mohamed Magdy “Afsha” and 2020-21 Egyptian Premier League leading scorer Mohamed Sherif now in regular contention for minutes, as well as Ahly right back Akram Tawfik.

Areas of weakness: The focus for manager Queiroz at this point is to determine who complements Salah the best in the attack to maximize Egypt’s efficiency. Players like Marmoush, Afsha, Abdallah El Said and Sherif have had their moments in qualifying, but it remains to be seen who will be counted on when the important games arrive with Mostafa Mohamed’s form declining a bit at club level. The center back pairing of Ahmed Hegazy and Mahmoud Hamdy “El Wensh” has looked questionable at times and the stability of the defensive line in general is a weakness that can be exploited.

Chances in the final round: Egypt is probably not quite good enough at this point to overcome an opponent like Algeria or Senegal, but are certainly capable of defeating the rest of the Pot 1 teams. A matchup against Morocco could go either way and it is hard to not consider them a slight favorite against Tunisia or Nigeria.

2. Cameroon

FIFA Ranking: 50

What do we know about Cameroon? The Cameroonian attack is near the top when it comes to African national teams. Vincent Aboubakar, Karl Toko Ekambi and Eric Choupo-Moting are all great options and Moumi Ngamaleu also must be considered part of the attacking group. Frank Zambo-Anguissa and Martin Hongla are now a fixture together in the center of midfield with both being technically accomplished passers of the ball while Samuel Gouet offers the option of being a ball winning presence.

Who emerged during the group stage? Nouhou Tolo and Olivier Mbaizo, both full backs based in Major League Soccer, have continued to further their role in the Indomitable Lions setup. Backup keeper Devis Epassy filled in capably while regular starter André Onana was out due to a long-term suspension. 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Best Player, Christian Bassogog, has reestablished himself in the squad as a reliable supersub to come on and run at tired defenses.

Areas of weakness: Center of defense. Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui has been a consistent starter and threat on set pieces going forward, but had some real head scratching moments during the course of qualifying. There is still plenty of chemistry to be developed between he and whoever partners him, which may include one or more of Harold Moukoudi, Nouhou Tolo or Jérôme Onguéné.

Chances in the final round: Cameroon is a physically imposing side whose attack is also an intimidating factor in why teams should be concerned if matched up against them. However, the team has a couple of flaws that could be fatal if the Indomitable Lions are matched up against Africa’s elite. Cameroon will certainly be competitive against whoever they are drawn against, but will need the defense to step up and André Onana to be at his best to make it to Qatar.

3. Mali

FIFA Ranking: 53

What do we know about Mali? Les Aigles are young, physical and a team that is destined to be a contender in African football for years to come. The midfield stands out with the Malian pipeline to Red Bull paving the way for central midfielders Amadou Haidara, Diadie Samassékou and Mohamed Camara to all compete at high level European clubs. Moussa Djenepo, Adama Noss Traoré and Adama Malouda Traoré are all dynamic attacking midfielders who contribute to the attack.

Who emerged during the group stage? Early in 2021 leading into the summer, the big question for Mali was who is going to be the primary goal scorer. After struggling to score in friendly matches, the team found their finishing touch starting in July when they destroyed Kenya 5-0 with the coming out of 22-year-old forward Ibrahima Koné. The Sarpsborg striker scored five goals in three starts during the final stretch of qualifiers, and his emergence could not have come at a better time with giant striker Kalifa Coulibaly lacking the ability to be the focal point and young talent El Bilal Touré still developing in French football.

Areas of weakness: Experience and weakness in the defense are issues for Mali. There is plenty of depth when it comes to full backs who can get forward for the Eagles, but central defense is an area with questions to be answered. 26-year-old Vitoria Guimaraes defender Falaye Sacko appears to be emerging as a leader by moving to the center of defense, but his move to the center is out of necessity because of a lack of established center backs. Boubacar Kouyate, Senou Coulibaly and Mamadou Fofana have all gotten opportunities but are unconvincing at club level, leaving manager Mohamed Magassouba to pick between those three or inexperienced but talented 21-year-old former Paris Saint-Germain and current Standard Liege defender Moussa Sissako to partner Sacko.

Chances in the final round: Mali did well to easily glide to the top of a very weak group that included Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, but this young and talented team is untested at the top of African football and friendly results over the summer suggest there is still more development to come. However, there is good reason for teams from Pot 1 to fear being drawn against this young and physical side, who have only gotten better in recent months and will continue to get better. The lack of proven experience in defense may prevent Les Aigles from making it this time around, but keep an eye on this team because they may make the necessary strides in the months leading up to when the final round takes place.

4. Ghana

Veteran playmaker André Ayew continues to lead Ghana, but will need goal scoring support to step up for the Black Stars to make it to Qatar.

FIFA Ranking: 52

What do we know about Ghana? The Black Stars are a team that is in transition, particularly on the attacking end ever since the international retirement of legendary hitman Asamoah Gyan. However, the young talent in the Ghanaian setup is impossible to deny and veteran Andre Ayew is still there to lead a national side with plenty of promise. The talent of Right to Dream graduates Kamaldeen Sulemana (19 years old) and Mohammed Kudus (21 years old) were previously known, but now they are being leaned on to help Andre Ayew lead the attack and continue to get better and better. Leicester City center back Daniel Amartey has returned to be an important presence and Ghana’s defense has been its best attribute throughout qualifying.

Who emerged during the group stage? Out of necessity several players have emerged ever since Ghana clinched qualification for the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations in March. French-born Strasbourg defender Alexander Djiku continues to be an excellent partner in central defense with Amartey. Left back Baba Rahman has returned from a wilderness caused by long-term injury and loss of form to take back his starting place, and Mallorca defensive midfielder Iddrisu Baba Mohammed is an excellent ball winning presence in front of the defensive line whose role continues to increase. The best player at the 2021 Africa U-20 Cup of Nations, 17-year-old playmaker Abdul Issahaku Fatawu, is starting to get important minutes for the senior national team as well.

Areas of weakness: Ghanaian supporters are crying out for a goal scorer to fill the void left by Gyan’s international retirement, and nobody has stepped up. The Black Stars attack was anemic throughout qualifying. Outside of a 3-1 home victory over Zimbabwe, Ghana scored all of their goals from set pieces, penalty kicks and a goalkeeping howler that came in their 1-0 home win over Ethiopia. The team’s defense held up remarkably to guide them through the second round, but they will need goal contributions from Sulemana and Kudus to help out Andre Ayew. Jordan Ayew has been the forward up top and certainly contributes to the buildup in attack but has not found the net, and no viable options have stepped up to challenge his position as a starter.

Chances in the final round: There is little question that Ghana will eventually get back to being the African force that they have been for a lengthy period, but the transition between generations is ongoing and there is limited time for the Black Stars to find the right chemistry before the crucial final qualifiers. With a matchup looming against one of Africa’s best, the talent is there for Ghana to surprise but it is more likely that they will miss out on World Cup qualification for the second straight edition. Ghanaian supporters will be hoping that they draw Tunisia or Nigeria for the final round.

5. DR Congo

The return of all-time leading scorer Dieumerci Mbokani to international football revived DR Congo’s fortunes and now the Leopards are only one step away from qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

FIFA Ranking: 64

What do we know about DR Congo? It was a slow start to manager Héctor Cúper’s reign as manager, but the Leopards have gradually improved their defense and utilized the return of veteran stars in attack to boost their fortunes under the pragmatic Argentine tactician. All-time leading scorer Dieumerci Mbokani returned to the setup with the 35-year-old being convinced by friend and national teammate Cédric Bakambu to come back and be the talismanic figure he has always been for the Congolese, scoring four crucial goals in six games. RC Lens playmaker Gaël Kakuta returned to the fold as well for the final two second round qualifiers and was as crucial as Mbokani to help the Leopards surge past Tanzania and Benin to the top of Group J. Chancel Mbemba and Christian Luyindama form one of Africa’s best national team center back partnerships to make DR Congo a formidable foe.

Who emerged during the group stage? The return of the aforementioned veterans was the primary reason for a revival in Congolese fortunes, but there are a couple of players who have seen their roles increase. Morocco-based right back Dieumerci Amale displayed excellent crossing ability when getting forward, and the central midfield partnership of Samuel Moutoussamy and Samuel Bastien continue to get better. Striker Ben Malango’s excellent goal scoring form at club level has finally seen the 28-year-old rewarded with extended playing time for the Leopards and he is seizing it, possibly even at the expense of Bakambu to form a physically intimidating forward partnership with Mbokani. Joël Kiassumbua is a free agent at club level, but his form continues to be solid for the national team.

Areas of weakness: While Kakuta, Mbokani and Malango are formidable attacking forces, it will be a difficult task to ask them to break down the defenses of Africa’s best teams. The Congolese midfield continues to develop chemistry and found success against mid-tier African teams like Tanzania and Benin, but it is questionable whether they can impose themselves against some of the defensive midfield presences that the teams from Pot 1 feature. In general, bringing back the veterans who had been out of the fold indicates that DR Congo always has the talent to overcome the middle of the pack in African national teams, but that taking down a North African team or Nigeria might be above their capabilities.

Chances in the final round: DR Congo is a team that nobody will want to face, and that is for a few reasons. The Leopards are finding their form at the perfect time thanks to the return of leaders such as Mbokani and have talent from back to front. Héctor Cúper is an established manager who knows how to keep the score close and his teams defensively solid. Finally, this is the last opportunity for Congolese veterans to get their chance at a World Cup and the urgency will be there in combination with a manager who can help them navigate a two-legged matchup. The Leopards will not be favored against any team from Pot 1, but it will likely be close and the team remains a somewhat unknown quantity.

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