All five of Africa’s World Cup places are still available and will only be claimed in the last two rounds of games.
After six days of qualifiers ended on Tuesday, the most significant development was who won’t be in Russia: Cameroon, the African champion, was the first of the 20 teams in the final group stage to be eliminated. Others followed Cameroon out, but 15 of the 20 still have a chance of making it, even if some are long shots.
Only the five group winners in Africa will qualify for the World Cup. The best-placed teams are:
Tunisia, which leads Group A by three points.
Nigeria, also clear by three points in Group B.
Ivory Coast, although its lead has been cut to one point in Group C.
Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, surprisingly tied at the top of Group D ahead of Senegal and South Africa.
Egypt, which had Mohamed Salah to thank for a crucial win over Uganda in Group E.
Here’s how World Cup qualifying in Africa stands ahead of the final two games in October and November:
Tunisia scored twice in the last 13 minutes to come back from 2-0 down and draw 2-2 with Congo and keep control of Group A. Congo’s Wilfried Moke scored an own goal in the 77th-minute and Anice Badri found the equalizer two minutes later in Kinshasa, Congo, as Tunisia escaped with a precious point against its closest challenger in the group, and avoided losing top spot.
Guinea and Libya are now both out of the running for Russia, leaving it a straight shootout between Tunisia and Congo for the World Cup place. Tunisia, with its three-point lead, finishes away at Guinea and then at home to Libya. Congo, which hasn’t been to the World Cup since its one appearance in 1974, must play Libya in Tunisia — when the Tunisians will undoubtedly be shouting for Libya — and hosts Guinea last.
Nigeria will be Russia-bound if it beats Zambia at home next month, a third straight World Cup appearance for the Super Eagles, who appear to find qualifying for the World Cup easier than for the African Cup.
Zambia, the only team that can deny Nigeria, closed the gap to three points at the top after winning 1-0 in Algeria on Tuesday night, a result that eliminated Algeria. Nigeria eliminated Cameroon on Monday.
Ivory Coast lost 2-1 at home to Gabon but kept its place at the top after a 0-0 draw between Mali and Morocco. There’s now just two points between Ivory Coast, Morocco and Gabon and all four teams still have a chance of going to the World Cup. Ivory Coast’s final game will be at home against Morocco, and against former coach Herve Renard, who took the Ivorians to the African Cup title two years ago.
Two high-quality goals by Garry Rodrigues of Galatasaray gave Cape Verde a surprise 2-1 win in South Africa. Cape Verde, with no points from its first two qualifiers, beat South Africa home and away in the space of five days to revive the small Atlantic Ocean island’s World Cup dream. Rodrigues sent a long-range free-kick whistling into the roof of South Africa’s net in the 52nd minute and found the mark with another shot from way out 15 minutes later.
Completing a day of upsets in Group D, Burkina Faso fought back for a 2-2 draw against Senegal after Sadio Mane’s 75th-minute goal appeared to be the winner for the Senegalese.
Again, all four teams are still in the running for the World Cup, but the advantage is with Burkina Faso and Cape Verde, who are tied on six points, one ahead of Senegal, and two ahead of South Africa.
Both Burkina Faso and Cape Verde would be World Cup first-timers if either of them qualifies.
“It’s possible. We have everything in our hands,” Cape Verde’s Rodrigues said. “I’m dreaming every day of going to the World Cup.”
Five days after losing in Uganda, and letting slip the lead in Group E, Egypt had its revenge with a 1-0 win over the Ugandans in Alexandria. Salah scored the only goal in the sixth minute, although he was denied a second late in the game by the fingertips of Uganda goalkeeper Denis Onyango. Salah has scored three goals in four qualifiers and Egypt, revived under coach Hector Cuper and seeking a first World Cup appearance in nearly 30 years, takes a two-point lead over Uganda into the last two games.
Ghana, lackluster in its first three games, bounced back with a 5-1 hammering of Republic of Congo to drag itself into contention and eliminate the Congolese.
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