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World Cup qualifying: Nigeria can't afford further slips, South Africa and Ghana poised for blockbuster

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We've reached the final two gameweeks of African World Cup qualifying round two, as the continent's top sides battle to take another step towards Qatar.

Forty teams entered the African group stage but only the 10 group winners will progress to the March double-headers to determine who will represent the continent on the grandest stage.

Morocco and Senegal have each booked their place in the next round while progression is beyond 17 teams.

Here are the key talking points -- and what's still at stake -- in each of the 10 groups in this international break.

Group A

Algeria and Burkina Faso are neck and neck on 10 points heading into the final two rounds of fixtures, with Niger (three points) and Djibouti (zero) already eliminated.

The top two drew in neutral Morocco in their first meeting in September, but the group will be decided in their final fixture in Blida, where Algeria will be favourites to avoid defeat and advance.

With a far inferior goal difference, Burkina Faso know they need to go to North Africa and win, which may be beyond them considering this Algeria team is currently on a record-setting undefeated streak.

Only three international sides in history -- Italy (2018-21), Brazil (1993-96) and Spain (2007-09) -- have played more consecutive matches without defeat than Algeria, who were last beaten in Nov. 2018.

Veteran striker Islam Slimani has six goals during the qualifying campaign, becoming Algeria's all-time top scorer in the process.

Group B

Tunisia lead the way on 10 points, although they must travel to Equatorial Guinea -- second on seven points -- in gameweek five.

Victory for Equatorial Guinea will see the final matchday become very interesting, with Tunisia hosting Zambia, and the National Thunder at eliminated Mauritania.

Zambia have failed to build on their opening 2-1 victory in Mauritania but could still progress, although with just four points they would need an almighty turnaround -- and likely a big win over Tunisia -- to stand a chance of reaching the playoffs.

Group C

Nigeria lead what should have been a straightforward pool, although their failings against Central African Republic in Lagos, where they fell to a rare defeat on home soil, have raised concerns of another spectacular collapse.

Nigeria have nine points and must travel to Liberia before hosting Cape Verde, who are second on seven; the Super Eagles know they can ill-afford further slip-ups.

Cape Verde are well organised, defeated Cameroon earlier this year, and will not be intimidated by Nigeria; can they spring a surprise?

Group D

Cameroon and Ivory Coast are involved in a head-to-head battle, with only one of the two African heavyweights able to progress to the next round.

Ivory Coast are in the driving seat, one point clear of the Indomitable Lions, but they face the ominous prospect of an away game in Douala -- at the new Japoma Stadium -- in the final matchday.

Before then, Cameroon must travel to shock Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers Malawi, while the Elephants will fancy their chances of dispatching Mozambique at home to at least maintain their one-point advantage before their showdown with the Lions.

The Ivorians' task has been made more complicated by the ongoing absence of star man Wilfried Zaha, with some disagreement between head coach Patrice Beaumelle and Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira as to the true reason for his omission.

Group E

Kenya and Rwanda are already out of the running, leaving Uganda and Mali to compete for top spot.

This will be settled on Wednesday if leaders Mali defeat Rwanda away and Uganda fail to beat Kenya in Entebbe; considering the Harambee Stars' hapless performances of late, however, expect their East African rivals to take this one to the final day.

Not only do Mali have a two-point lead over Uganda, but they will also enjoy home advantage in the final group meeting between the sides, making them strong favourites to progress.

Both teams are yet to concede in the qualifying campaign so far.

Group F

Egypt remain in pole position heading into fixtures five and six, despite parting ways with head coach Hossam El Badry after two matches of the qualifying campaign.

They enjoy a four-point advantage over Libya, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Gabon six points off the pace in third.

Egypt and Mohamed Salah need just three points to guarantee top spot, while even two would (at worst) leave Libya with a major goal difference hurdle to overcome -- and eliminate Gabon.

For the Panthers to pull off a near-miraculous progression -- keeping Auba's hopes of playing in a World Cup alive -- they must defeat Libya at home, hope Angola dispatch the Pharaohs in Luanda, and then beat Salah and co. away in Alexandria.

Group G

Arguably the second-most compelling group after Group D, South Africa and Ghana are among Africa's grandest footballing nations -- and biggest sporting markets -- but only one can squeeze into the playoffs.

Both are under relatively new management, with AFCON-winning coach Hugo Broos taking the reins for Bafana Bafana earlier this year, and World Cup 2010 mastermind Milovan Rajevac replacing Black Stars legend C.K. Akonnor in a bid to salvage their Qatar ambitions.

Rajevac may just do it, after taking maximum points during the previous international break to keep Ghan within touching distance of South Africa.

Both heavyweights must negotiate tough fixtures in matchday five -- Ghana away in Ethiopia, South Africa at home to Zimbabwe -- but wins or draws for both will see them in blockbuster in Cape Coast on Sunday evening.

Bafana will be quietly confident if they can head into that encounter with their one-point advantage intact, whereas the Black Stars will fancy their chances of overhauling the current group leaders when they enjoy home advantage.

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Group H

This group was wrapped up in October, when Senegal became the first team to reach the playoff round.

They barely broke a sweat in seeing off Togo, Congo and Namibia -- admittedly not the strongest opponents -- and can focus on using this international break to refine their approach ahead of January's Africa Cup of Nations, where they will be among the favourites.

Aliou Cisse has opted to introduce Pape Gueye to the fold, and the Marseille midfielder is in line to make his debut, although there's no place for Keita Balde, who's suffering from tonsillitis.

Group I

Morocco are also assured of their place in the next round, and they can use this break to build on the progress made already under Vahid Halilhodzic.

They've conceded just one goal in the qualifiers, and having scored 13 goals in their past three qualifiers they clearly aren't missing disgraced Chelsea playmaker Hakim Ziyech.

However, Halilhodzic knows the importance of having a range of attacking options in a tournament environment, and he will be glad of the return of Youssef En-Nesyri.

Youssef Maleh is back in the squad and could make his international debut, although there's still no place for Ziyech, Amine Harit and Noussair Mazraoui, who must all now be expecting to sit out the Nations Cup in two months' time.

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Group J

Finally to the most open pool of the lot, where only four points separate first from fourth, and each of the quartet could still claim top spot or finish bottom.

When the groups were drawn, ESPN predicted the pool with no dominant seed could be considered a 'Group of Life'; so it has proved, with Group J the only one of the ten in which no team has been eliminated.

Tanzania and Benin are joint leaders on seven points, with nominal favourites Democratic Republic of Congo on five and Madagascar on three.

Hector Cuper's DRC -- seeking a first qualification since 1974 -- are inconsistent but still have destiny in their own hands. Victory in Tanzania could set them up for a winner-takes-all showdown with Benin in Kinshasa on Sunday.