Johannesburg (AFP) – Prolific Liverpool goalscorer and Egypt captain Mohamed Salah might be among the many stars in motion this week when qualifying for the 2026 World Cup in Africa will get underway with two matchdays.
His two Premier League objectives in opposition to Brentford this weekend took his tally to 200 in English soccer, and he’s now set to shine in opposition to Group A rivals Djibouti and Sierra Leone.
Salah was the second highest-ranked African within the Ballon d’Or final month behind Napoli and Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen, who misses the opening rounds as a consequence of damage.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s Omar Marmoush and Nantes’ Mostafa Mohamed are different Egyptians who’ve scored repeatedly in main European leagues this season.
Djibouti, who face Egypt on Thursday in Cairo, are among the many weakest African nationwide groups and have twice suffered eight objectives in World Cup qualifying.
Sierra Leone might be handicapped by having to host a house match in opposition to Egypt on Sunday in Liberia as a result of they don’t have a stadium that meets worldwide requirements.
Egypt have gained the Africa Cup of Nations a document seven instances, however are struggling in World Cup qualifying, reaching the ultimate solely 3 times in comparison with Cameroon’s eight appearances.
The largest problem for Salah and his teammates may come from Burkina Faso, ranked tenth in Africa, 5 locations behind Egypt. Guinea-Bissau and Ethiopia are the opposite contenders in Group A.
Nigeria should be with out Osimhen, one of many favorites to win the CAF Footballer of the Yr award subsequent month, and injured AC Milan winger Samuel Chukwueze in opposition to Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
However Portuguese coach José Peseiro has loads of proficient replacements to select from, together with Bayer Leverkusen’s Victor Boniface and Nottingham Forest’s Taiwo Awoniyi.
There are, nevertheless, considerations over the Tremendous Eagles’ protection, with Cypriot goalkeeper Francis Uzoho going through criticism for his performances in two current friendlies.
Zimbabwe are again in worldwide soccer after a FIFA ban for presidency interference prevented them from taking part in 2024 Nations Cup qualifying.
The largest threats
They’re amongst 17 African international locations who can’t play at residence as a consequence of substandard stadiums or safety considerations and can host Nigeria within the Rwandan city of Butare.
South Africa are thought-about the largest menace to Nigeria in Group C, however will face Benin at residence and Rwanda away with out star Lyle Foster.
The Burnley striker and solely South African within the Premier League has been sidelined as a consequence of a recurrence of a psychological well being challenge.
Former Premier League supervisor Chris Hughton admits he’s below stress as Ghana coach forward of residence qualifiers in opposition to Madagascar and the Comoros.
“These are two video games we’ve to do effectively in,” he mentioned as media known as for his exclusion after a four-goal pleasant in opposition to the USA final month.
Veteran Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew, who joined Ligue 1 facet Le Havre final weekend, has been recalled, however damage guidelines out one other midfielder, Arsenal’s Thomas Partey.
Final December, in Qatar, Morocco turned the primary African semi-finalist of the World Cup, however it won’t take part within the first day, its Eritrean opponent having withdrawn with out rationalization.
Thus, Saudi goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, Paris Saint-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi and Sevilla striker Youssef en-Nesyri will solely come into motion for the Atlas Lions subsequent Tuesday.
Their late entry into qualifying might be in Tanzania in Group E, which additionally contains Zambia, Congo Brazzaville and Niger, who’re anticipated to rent Moroccan coach Badou Zaki.
The 9 group winners after 260 qualifiers stretching by way of October 2025 advance to a document 48 nationwide finals in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
There may very well be a tenth African qualifier as the highest 4 finalists compete in a mini-tournament and the winners advance to the intercontinental play-offs with two finals locations up for grabs.
© 2023 AFP