Mane and Salah to battle once more in African playoffs


The third and final round of the African qualifiers will commence this week with just 10 countries left looking to ensure a place in this winters tournament in Qatar.

With the African Cup of Nations having just taken place in Cameroon earlier in the year, most of the sides will be acutely aware of what they are up against ahead of a colossal week in the continent.

There are sure to have five fascinating encounters so it is time to take a look at what is in store.

Egypt vs Senegal

This is the one everyone has been waiting for. Just 47 days removed from their penalty shoot-out in the Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal will do battle once more for a place in Qatar.

Sadio Mane came out on top on that occasion with club team mate Mohamed Salah left heartbroken and Salah will be hoping the tables turn this time around.

The Egyptians cruised through a potentially difficult group in the previous round with an unbeaten record and will look to Salah to inspire once more, as he did en route to the final in Cameroon.

Senegal also came through their group unbeaten, with only a 1-1 draw in Togo preventing the Lions of Teranga from gaining a 100% record.

It will be an intriguing clash of styles once more as Carlos Queiroz’s defensive approach arguably does not help their star player but does seem to get the best results for the team.

Senegal will be on the front foot and will have the confidence gaining from February’s first-ever continental triumph.

Cameroon vs Algeria

Cameroon were the hosts of the Cup of Nations and performed admirably on home soil, reaching the semi-finals only to be knocked out on penalties against Egypt.

Vincent Aboubakar finished as the top goalscorer at the tournament and coach Rigobert Song will look to the Al-Nassr striker to provide the goals once more.

The Indomitable Lions came through one of the toughest tests in the previous round by topping a group ahead of the Ivory Coast and appear battle hardened ahead of this crucial clash.

Algeria were among the tournament favourites heading into the Cup of Nations but performed abysmally in Cameroon which does not bode well for this game.

Djamel Belmadi has kept his job and will need Riyad Mahrez to transfer his form for Manchester City over to the national team if they are to return to the world stage for the first time since 2014.

The Desert Warriors were undefeated in a tough group involving Burkina Faso in round two but will need to improve hugely here after scoring only one goal in Cameroon.

Ghana vs Nigeria

Ghana were another side that performed abysmally in January, finishing bottom of their group and failing to win a single match.

Milovan Rajevac paid for it with his job with Otto Addo installed as caretaker manager for this clash. Intriguingly, Chris Hughton has also come in as a technical advisor. How much control he has though is anyone’s guess.

The Black Stars edged South Africa into second spot in the previous round and will look mainly to the squad used at the Cup of Nations. Thomas Partey has been in excellent form for Arsenal and will need to carry that form along here.

Nigeria suffered a surprise exit in the round of 16 in Cameroon but will still surely be confident of reaching a fourth consecutive World Cup.

Augustine Eguavoen’s side will be desperate to make up for that disappointment against their West African rivals and will look to the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho and Samuel Chukwueze for inspiration.

The Super Eagles edged past Cape Verde in the previous round but will be favourites to progress where they will no doubt run into Argentina in the group stages once again.

DR Congo vs Morocco

DR Congo were the first sub-Saharan nation to qualify for the World Cup in 1974 under their former name Zaire but have not returned to the finals since.

The Leopards have Hector Cuper at the helm who took charge of Egypt in the finals in 2018 and who can call on a wealth of club experience.

Having failed to qualify for the AFCON, Cuper’s side had one of the kinder draws in World Cup qualifying, overcoming Benin and Tanzania to reach this stage.

Morocco on the other hand reached the last eight in Cameroon before falling to neighbours Egypt after extra time.

The Atlas Lions were flawless in the previous round, winning all six games against the likes of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

Vahid Halihodzic’s side will fancy their chances here of reaching a second consecutive World Cup after a promising showing in Russia in 2018.

Achraf Hakimi is the star man and will be keen to showcase his ability on the biggest stage.

Mali vs Tunisia

Mali represent probably the best chance of seeing a debutant at this year’s tournament but will be wary following their defeat to Equatorial Guinea on penalties in Cameroon.

Les Aigles were unbeaten in the previous round and will be hopeful that this is finally their time after watching on as their rivals qualified for decades.

Amadou Haidara will be the key in midfield for coach Mohamed Magassouba ahead of two of the biggest games in the country’s history.

Tunisia pulled off a surprise win over Nigeria in Cameroon but came unstuck at the quarter-final stage at the hands of Burkina Faso.

The Eagles of Carthage have qualified for the World Cup five teams but have never progressed past the group stages but did achieve a first victory since 1978 against Panama in Russia.

Tunisia came through a difficult group involving Equatorial Guinea and Zambia to get this far and coach Jalel Kadri will look to former Sunderland man Wahbi Khazri.

The first leg of all of these ties will take place on Friday with the return leg on the following Tuesday.

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