African qualifiers reach to Russia next year
Points collected in Group E: 13
Goals scored: 12
Goals conceded: 5
Top scorer: Mohamed Salah (5 goals)
Built on the solid foundations of Hector Cuper’s defensive strategies, Egypt managed to end a 28-year wait for a World Cup appearance, having only conceded five goals in eight games.
Although the Argentinean boss came in for fierce criticism for what many deemed Egypt’s lack of entertaining football, the Pharaohs were hardly troubled, unlike in previous attempts in which they struggled until the latter stages of the qualifying marathon.
Egypt were given an early scare though when they suffered a stunning 1-0 defeat away to Chad in the first leg of the second qualifying round but they rallied back at home to crush their unfancied opponents 4-0 and advance to the final group stage.
They made a perfect start to their group campaign, coming from behind to earn a 2-1 victory at Congo, thanks to goals from playmaker Abdallah El-Said and winger Mohamed Salah, whose neat combinations throughout the qualifiers were key to Egypt’s qualification for the World Cup.
They made it two wins out of two with a 2-0 home victory over main challengers Ghana, with Salah and El-Said on target again, to move five points clear of the Black Stars who were held to a surprise 0-0 draw at home to Uganda in their opening match.
It looked as if it will be plain sailing for Egypt but their credentials were called into question following a surprise 1-0 defeat at Uganda, who capitalized on a rare defensive lapse to score the winner through Emmanuel Okwi early in the second half.
But Egypt ensured neither Uganda nor Ghana will be able to overtake them at the top with two straight wins over Uganda and Congo.
Both proved stiff opponents, with Egypt needing a Salah goal to claim a narrow 1-0 victory over Uganda before the in-form Liverpool winger struck twice to give his side an invaluable 2-1 win over Congo in a dramatic game in Alexandria.
His brace included a stoppage-time penalty that took Egypt to their first World Cup finals since 1990 with one match to spare, rendering the last game against Ghana meaningless.
Points collected in Group B: 14
Goals scored: 14
Goals conceded: 4
Top scorer: Victor Moses (3 goals)
Drawn in the toughest group of the African qualifiers, nobody had expected it would be that easy for Nigeria, especially after they surprisingly missed out on a place at the African Cup of Nations early this year.
But they took Group B by surprise, reaching next year’s Russia finals with one match to spare after garnering 13 points from five matches in an impressive unbeaten run.
They were greatly helped by some inspiring displays from Arsenal’s young forward Alex Iwobi and Chelsea’s versatile midfielder Victor Moses, who scored five goals between them.
Nigeria overcame Swaziland with a 2-0 aggregate win in the second qualifying round but they might have feared the worst after being drawn with Algeria, Nations Cup winners Cameroon and Zambia in a “group of death”.
However, an ideal start saw them secure a 2-1 away win over Zambia, with Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho scoring two first-half goals.
They also gave a footballing lesson to Algeria in their second encounter, producing a vivid attacking display to down the North Africans 3-1 at home, thanks to a double from Moses and a goal from veteran midfielder John Obi Mikel.
Next in the line were African champions Cameroon, who suffered a humiliating 4-0 loss away to Nigeria as goals from Odion Ighalo, Mikel, Moses and Iheanacho underlined their embarrassment of riches.
Their first draw was against the same opponents in a 1-1 stalemate in Yaounde after Nigeria had thrown away their lead but there wasn’t anything to worry about as they went on to beat Zambia 1-0 with a goal from Iwobi in their penultimate match to reach their third straight World Cup.
They kept their unbeaten run intact with a 1-1 draw against Algeria in their final qualifier.
Points collected in Group D: 11 points
Goals scored: 13
Goals conceded: 4
Top scorer: Mame Diouf, Sadio Mane, Diafra Sakho, Cheikh N’Doye (2 goals)
Having made a slow start, Senegal were given a helping hand when their 2-1 defeat by South Africa in their second Group D match was annulled and replayed later, a decision that proved decisive in the race to obtain the solitary ticket to Russia.
The Lions of Teranga beat Cape Verde 2-0 in their opening group match with goals from Keita Balde and Moussa Sow either side of the interval before slumping to a loss against South Africa and drawing 0-0 at home to Burkina Faso.
Their shaky start cast doubts over their ability to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since they made history in 2002 when they reached the quarter-final but FIFA ordered their match against South Africa be replayed after it had found that the outcome had been manipulated by Ghanian referee Joseph Lamptey, who has since been handed a life ban.
They were held by Burkina Faso again, this time to a 2-2 draw, but recovered with successive 2-0 wins over Cape Verde and South Africa in the replayed match to ensure they would finish on top before meeting South Africa again in their final qualifier.
Senegal were blessed with an array of attacking options, with the likes of Sadio Mane, Keita Balde, Moussa Sow and Mame Diouf giving torrid time to opposing defences.
Points collected in Group A: 14
Goals scored: 15
Goals conceded: 6
Top scorer: Youssef Msakni (3 goals)
As clinical as ever, Tunisia got the job done smoothly to qualify for their first World Cup since 2006. Their battling spirit was key to their success.
The Eagles of Carthage easily overcame Mauritania with a 4-2 aggregate win in the second qualifying round before garnering maximum points from their opening three matches of the group stage.
They defeated Guinea 2-0 with goals from Aymen Abdennour and Anis Ben-Hatira, beat Libya 1-0 in Kenya with a goal from Wahbi Khazri and secured a 2-1 home win over DR Congo in a hard-fought match, thanks to strikes from Yassine Meriah and Ghailene Chaalali.
The match that defined their campaign came against DR Congo away from home.
DR Congo led 2-0 until the last 13 minutes, with goals from Chancel Mbemba and Paul-Jose M’Poku putting them in the driving seat.
However, a remarkable late comeback saw Tunisia secure a share of spoils in dramatic fashion. An own goal from Wilfred Moke halved the deficit before Anice Badri struck with a superb volley from inside the area on 79 minutes to stun the home crowd.
Tunisia moved a step closer to a World Cup berth when they hammered Guinea 4-1 away after putting in an impressive attacking display highlighted by a hat-trick from playmaker Youssef Msakni. They only needed a home draw against Libya to advance and a 0-0 stalemate was enough to lift them to the Russia finals.
Points collected in Group C: 12
Goals scored: 11
Goals conceded: 1
Top scorer: Khalid Boutaib (4 goals)
The African expertise of French coach Herve Renard proved decisive in turning around the fortunes of a Morocco side who had not reached the World Cup since the1998 finals in France.
Morocco had only conceded one goal throughout the qualifiers in the preliminary round, ending the group campaign without leaking any. Renard, who won with Zambia and the Ivory Coast two Nations Cup titles, injected fresh blood and his decision to call up striker Khalid Boutaib in early 2016 for the first time made the difference.
Boutaib, who plays for Turkish Super Lig side Yeni Malatyaspor, finished as Morocco’s top scorer in the qualifiers with four goals.
No team have managed to unlock Morocco’s watertight backline since they defeated Equatorial Guinea 2-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round.
They were held to two straight 0-0 draws by Gabon and the Ivory Coast but quickly hit top gear with a 6-0 hammering of Mali before settling for another 0-0 stalemate away to Mali.
A hat-trick from Boutaib gave them an impressive 3-0 home win over Gabon in the penultimate round, which meant they only needed an away draw at the Ivory Coast to book a World Cup ticket.
But they finished on top in an even more impressive fashion, defeating the Elephants 2-0 in Abidjan with first-half goals from Nabil Dirar and Mehdi Benatia.