As it stands, four North African countries hold the advantage going into the second leg while the Nigerian players have a bright chance to punch their seventh World Cup ticket.
The first leg of the five playoffs for qualifiers from Africa held across the continent on Friday, March 25. A silent undertone of the matchups had three North Africa versus West Africa contests. The fourth was a west African derby, and the fifth had another North African team heading down south of the continent.
Egypt (34) 1 – 0 Senegal (18)
DR Congo (66) 1 – 1 Morocco (24)
Cameroon (38) 0 – 1 Algeria (43)
Mali (48) 0 – 1 Tunisia (36)
Ghana (61) 0 – 0 Nigeria (32)
None of the four North African countries suffered a loss, the four got favourable results. Egypt got an iota of revenge over Senegal after losing the AFCON final to the Terenga Lions in February in Cameroon. Algeria rebounded from a group phase AFCON blackout to eke out a battling 1-0 win over the Indomitable Lions in Yaounde.
Tunisia proved again they are uncomfortable opponents for anyone as they stole a 1-0 win over Mali in Bamako. The Eagles of Mali shot themselves in the foot by scoring a farcical own goal and then the culprit, Moussa Sissako, got sent off towards the end of the first half. Despite playing with 10 men for all the second half, it was the Malians that created the better goal-scoring chances, but just like they showed at AFCON, Tunisia will play unimaginatively, look dull and pedantic, but they will get an excellent result.
Under the new dispensation of Rigobert Song, the Indomitable Lions started with a loss that will prove ultimately damaging to the Lions getting to Qatar in 2022. A first-half header from Islam Slimane gave the Desert Warriors the lead in the 40th minute. AFCON top scorer, Vincent Aboubakar was well shackled and many times during the match, the Algerians were comfortable defending against the Lions.
At the Stade des Martyrs de la Pentecote in Kinshasa, DR Congo started very well against Morocco and scored before the 15-minute mark. They also created other chances whilst keeping the Atlas Lions away from their goal. But they rued the missed chances and could have lost the match if Ryan Mmaee had converted from the penalty spot before Tarik Tissoudali in the 76th minute.
As it stands, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria could all make it through to Qatar in November.
The West African derby between Ghana and Nigeria ended goalless in Kumasi despite all the barbs thrown from both sides before the commencement of the match. The Eagles were tepid for most of the first half and struggled to create genuine goal-scoring chances while the Black Stars pinned their hopes on the youthful offensive pairing of Felix Afena-Gyan and Abdul Issahaku. For a derby that is touted to be a ferocious one, there were only two yellow cards shown -the one to Oghenekaro Etebo was for dissent. Nigeria now holds the slight edge going into the second leg.
History is rich until we create another. All these results could be overturned despite the home advantage and first-leg leads. The second legs have to be played and until the final whistle, none of the 10 African countries battling for the five tickets can get comfortable.