Wednesday, 18 November 2015

GOING TO POT: how the CAF World Cup qualifiers should pan out. And why the groups are so tough this time

Headed for 2018: Russian World Cup is heading our way

FROM dramatic comebacks to routine hammerings, the last round of CAF World Cup qualifiers eventually threw up the usual suspects for the group stages in the battle to qualify for Russia 2018.

Giant-threatening Botswana and Swaziland came close, but eventually Mali and Nigeria asserted their second leg dominance. Algeria destroyed Tanzania 7-0 and South Africa... well they did what was needed against Angola. Job done. Home and away. 

If Angola, ranked 99, had made it, they would have been second only to Libya as the lowest ranked side through to the group stages.

Though widely maligned, the FIFA rankings have got it nearly spot on with 18 of the best ranked nations making it - Equatorial Guinea (15) and Liberia (20) were the exceptions.

Only Burkina Faso and Libya managed to reach next year's draw (June 24, 2016) for those final five groups of four from outside the continent's top 20 ranked nations.

Based on current FIFA rankings, this is how the seeded pots would look, though things may change before the draw next June. One side from each pot will be drawn in each group, giving us FIVE groups. In 2014 qualifying, CAF opted for FORTY teams in 10 groups with play-off AFTER the group stages.

I've listed the 20 nations with CAF ranking first, FIFA ranking in brackets:

POT 1 (Africa's top five all made it):
1 Cote D'Ivoire (22)
2 Algeria (26)
3 Ghana (30)
4 Cape Verde Islands (32)
5 Senegal (39)
POT 2 (Africa's top ten all made it)
6 Tunisia (41)
7 Cameroon (51)
8 Congo (52)
9 Guinea (53)
10 DRC (55)

POT 3 (Missing: Equatorial Guinea, 69)
11 Egypt (57)
12 Nigeria (59)
13 Mali (63)
14 Uganda (68)
16 Zambia (71)
POT 4 (Effectively, the outsiders)
17 Gabon (73)
18 South Africa (75)
19 Morocco (79)
22 Burkina Faso (93)
33 Libya (113)

So from here, we can work out probable best and worst case scenarios for our beloved Bafana Bafana, who - thanks to the charitable Angolans - have given national head coach Shakes Mashaba his first competitive wins THIS YEAR. Since the draw against Nigeria in the final qualifier for AFCON 2015 where Mashaba reigned unbeaten, this is the problem:

LOST 1-3 to Algeria (AFCON 2015)
DREW 1-1 with Senegal (AFCON 2015)
LOST 1-2 to Ghana (AFCON2015)
LOST to Botswana (penalty shoot-out after 0-0 draw, COSAFA Cup)
LOST to Malawi (penalty shoot-out after 0-0 draw, COSAFA Cup)
DREW 0-0 with Gambia (AFCON 2017 qualifying)
LOST 1-3 to Mauritania (AFCON 2017 qualifying)

With Cameroon home and away to come next March, our AFCON 2017 qualifying hopes look grim. Without six points from those two games, Group M could be a hopeless cause for Shaky. Here's the current table: 


1 Cameroon 2 2 0 0 2 0 2 6

2 Mauritania 2 1 0 1 3 2 1 3

3 Gambia 2 0 1 1 0 1 -1 1

4 South Africa 2 0 1 1 1 3 -2 1

Given this sort of form, none of the options are going to be easy, believe me. In nine competitive games this year (we won't include home-based CHAN, where we were knocked out by Angola last month) Bafana have only managed those two wins against Angola.

The toughest possible group for Bafana Bafana would consist of Afcon champs Ivory Coast (ranked above Algeria), Tunisia and Egypt. Many would argue Algeria, with just two of their squad not born and groomed in France, would be a better option than Cote d'Ivoire

The best possible grouping for Mashaba, but by no means easy, would be: Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. All six group qualifiers will take place between October 2016 and November 2017. We have time to prepare.

There is no easy march to Russia. Napoleon Bonaparte realised that 200 years ago. But for African football, with only five nations qualifying from 53, it's as tough as it ever was.

1 comment:

  1. It wasn’t expected for Switzerland to win yesterday's game. Embolo 's goal came as a nice surprise. It is good to see Switzerland scoring a victory in this match and adding 3 more points for their rankings. I am sure Ottmar Hitzfeld will have to review the team's offensive and defensive strategy for the next match against Hungary.