Draws for the second round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Qatar 2022 has come and gone in the ancient city of Cairo.
The event saw 14 nations who scaled the first round hurdle join 26 top-seeded African teams to battle for a potential position at the World cup.
By this arrangement, the 30 teams now fall into 10 groups of 4 teams. They will now play a series of home and away matches, from which a final 10 teams shall be selected for the third round.
The second round of matches will be played across the African continent from March 2020 through October 2021.
Recall that the first round saw the likes of Zimbabwe and Malawi defeat their opponents in crunching ties which ended a lone goals respectively. However, second round of games promises to be exhilarating with some expected mouth-watering encounters.
Group D promises to present us with one of the most interesting ties to look forward to as five-time Afcon champions, The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon face two time winners, the Elephants of Cote d’ivoire.
Both countries parade some of the best names in African football today. Having set a new a new national record of consecutive clean sheets in the preliminaries, the Malawians, are also drawn in the same group and may pose some sort of threat, given their run of form in the first round.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria have also been handed some of tough tests, as they travel to Cape Verde, Liberia and Central African Republic respectively.
Experts believe that given the poor situation of the pitches in Bangui and Monrovia, as well as the artificial grass at Praia, Gernot Rohr’s men must rise up to the occasion when it matters in their group C encounters.
In-form Liverpool forward, current African footballer of the year and captain of the Senegalese national team, Sadio Mane and his team mates will look to re-enact the spirit of the 2002 world cup if they are able to surpass Congo, Namibia and Togo respectively in group H, and they defeat their third round opponent.
The first round of matches produced a total of 57 goals, with an average of average of 2.04 goals per match.
AC Ajaccio and Guinea Bissau Forward, Joseph Mendes, Simba S.C. (Tanzania) and Uganda striker Meddie Kagere, and Sudan’s Ramadan Agab Shareif, who plies his trade with Al-Mourada are joint top scorers all with 3 goals.
Current Afcon champions the Desert Foxes of Algeria will face the Stallions of Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou, and we expect to see a scintillating performance from in-form Manchester City forward, Riyad Mahrez.
The Algerians also travel to Djibouti City and Niamey respectively where they face the Djibouti and the Nigeriens in group A.
Mo Salah’s Egypt and African representatives at the world cup in 1934, 1990 and 2018 editions who faced a disappointing outing at the last Afcon will have another chance to redeem their image when they face Gabon, Libya and Angola.
Ghana’s Black Stars, one of the most decorated teams on the African continent and quarter-finalist in 2010 world cup will face the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, who themselves represented Africa at the 1998, 2002, and 2010 editions of the FIFA world cup.
Other ties ties in group G includes Zimbabwe vs Ethiopia, as both teams look to prove a point.
Despite being one of the earliest established national sides in Africa, Ethiopia has never qualified for the world cup, but were only crowned Afcon champions in 1962.
Zimbabwe share similar fate as the Ethiopians, and are best known for winning the COSAFA cup a record of six times.
As African nations brace up for the ultimate challenge, only 5 will make part of the final 32 who will be playing in Qatar come 2022. All eyes will therefore be on the big boys of African football and the likes of Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Egypt.
Nevertheless, football is unpredictable and there are possibilities of major upset as we look forward to the second qualifying rounds.
Recall that there were propositions for selection of African representatives based on performance from the African cup of nations. This was however rejected by CAF who opted for three rounds of qualifiers.
Malawi, Djibouti and Zimbabwe all won their ties by one-goal margins against Botswana, Eswatini and Somalia respectively, making for several dramatic finishes.
Gerald Phiri’s coolly dispatched late penalty saw Malawi through in what set a new national record of three successive clean sheets in World Cup preliminaries.
Djibouti saw out a tense, goalless second leg lacking in clear-cut chances to advance thanks to their 2-1 victory in the sides’ first meeting.
The visitors will participate in the second round for just the second time, having avoided defeat in an away World Cup qualifier for the first time – this after six straight defeats on the road.
After 77 minutes of Somalia stoutly resisting Zimbabwe attacks, four goals in some crazy closing stages settled this thrilling encounter in the hosts’ favour.
Khama Billiat’s unstoppable stoppage-time effort – fired left-footed into the top-right corner – ended the hopes of the lowest-ranked team involved in Africa’s Qatar 2022 qualifiers. The dramatic winner ended a run of 11 World Cup qualifiers without a win for Zimbabwe.
Mozambique, Angola, Togo, Rwanda, Guinea-Bissau, Namibia and Sudan had an easier time of it as they all booked their spots in the next round.
Rwanda’s 10-0 aggregate victory over Seychelles was by far the most lopsided of all the ties in Round 1. Meanwhile, it was a historic evening on home soil for Guinea-Bissau. They advanced to the second round for the first time ever, steering past Sao Tome e Principe 2-1 in the return leg.