World Soccer

AFCON final “take two”

Senegal v Egypt tops the billing in the final stage of CAF World Cup qualifying


Areprise of the personal battle between Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will take place just under two months after Mane came out tops in the Africa Cup of Nations final, leaving his Liverpool team-mate distraught and in tears.

Senegal, who edged seven-time winners Egypt in a penalty shootout to win the tournament in Cameroon at the beginning of February, have been drawn against the Pharaohs in a two-legged play-off at the end of March to decide one of Africa’s five places at this year’s World Cup finals. The monster tie vastly overshadow­s another four intriguing showdowns as the winners of the ten qualifying groups, decided in the space of just three months between September and November last year, clash in five decisive two-legged ties with the aggregate victors advancing to Qatar this winter.

Algeria take on Cameroon, Ghana play Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo are up against Morocco, while Mali meet Tunisia.

Senegal were top seeds with Egypt in the pot of unseeded teams for the draw, which was conducted during the Cup of Nations tournament. Had it been held afterwards, Egypt would also have been in the top bracket, with their performanc­e in Cameroon taking them up the FIFA rankings. Instead, they now face a daunting repeat of that final in Yaounde.

But while Mane and compatriot­s will be marginal favourites, they will be all too aware of Egypt’s experience in matches of this magnitude. The first leg is in Cairo and Senegal will host the second leg on March 29 in their

newly-built Diamniadio Olympic Stadium in Dakar, likely to be as much of a celebratio­n of their Nations Cup triumph as it will be the opportunit­y to qualify for a third World Cup finals appearance.

Egypt have only been to three themselves, a record that is in stark contrast to their record haul of AFCON

While Mane and compatriot­s will be marginal favourites, they will be all too aware of Egypt’s experience in matches of this magnitude

titles, and is in spite of the fact that they were the first African country at a World Cup, way back in1934.

Of the ten African candidates for a place in Qatar, only Mali have never made it previously. Their clash against Tunisia pits two countries of potential but who might prove unworthy of a World Cup place given how they performed at the Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

Much more was expected of both nations, but Mali losing to lowly Equatorial Guinea – albeit on a penalty shootout – in the round of16 laid bare their limitation­s while Tunisia got to the quarter-finals despite more defeats than games won.

Mali have, since the finals in Cameroon, made overtures to ex-French youth internatio­nal Moussa Dembele to switch internatio­nal allegiance (having already successful­ly convinced Everton midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure to do so), and intend to ask Frederic Kanoute and former Liverpool midfielder Momo Sissoko to join their coaching staff.

It is a wide-open tie with Mali given the boost of being able to host the first leg on March 25 in Bamako. During last year’s group qualifiers they had been forced to play their home ties in Morocco because all stadia in Mali were declared not up to the required standard for World Cup matches. The March 26 Stadium in Bamako, site of the 2002 Cup of Nations final, has since been renovated and passed fit for use.

Ghana and Nigeria both made coaching changes after Cameroon. The Black Stars’ dismal opening-round exit ended the brief second tenure of Milovan Rajevac, who was in charge when they reached the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, and he has been replaced by Eric Addo, German-born former Ghana internatio­nal who is a youth team coach at Borussia Dortmund. Chris Hughton will assist him for the two ties.

Nigeria were supposed to have Portuguese Jose Peseiro as their new coach for the play-offs, but changed their mind and are keeping technical director Augustine Eguavoen on in the post, despite the fact they went out in the round of16 at the Cup of Nations finals.

Ghana against Nigeria keeps up a long-standing, but infrequent, rivalry between the two West African giants. Their last competitiv­e meeting was in the 2010 Cup of Nations semi-final in Angola where Asamoah Gyan’s goal won it for Ghana.

DR Congo qualified for the1974 World Cup as Zaire and are outsiders for their tie against Morocco. The Congolese did not qualify for the Cup of Nations finals but held a training camp in Bahrain in January under veteran coach Hector Cuper.

Cameroon and Algeria will have to lick their wounds before their tussle. Both have World Cup pedigree with Cameroon seven times past qualifiers (an all-time African record) and Algeria making the last of their four appearance­s in Brazil in 2014, when they came close to upsetting eventual winners Germany in the round of16.

 ?? ?? Rematch… Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in discussion during the AFCON final
Rematch… Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in discussion during the AFCON final
 ?? ??
 ?? ?? Point to prove… Algeria were dumped out in the AFCON group stage
Point to prove… Algeria were dumped out in the AFCON group stage
 ?? ?? Reinstated…Nigeria boss Augustine Eguavoen
Reinstated…Nigeria boss Augustine Eguavoen
 ?? ?? Mali target…Lyon striker Moussa Dembele
Mali target…Lyon striker Moussa Dembele

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