<
>

World Cup qualifying: Africa braces for tantalising do-or-die clashes

play
Serbia shocks Portugal late sending them to the WC (2:36)

Serbia outlasts Portugal with a 90th minute goal as they beat Portugal sending them to the World Cup and Portugal to the playoff. (2:36)

We've arrived at the finale of a fascinating African World Cup qualifying campaign, with four of the 10 playoff spots still up for grabs as the continent's biggest sides enter the home straight of a gruelling campaign.

Giants Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Algeria all still have work to do in order to secure their spots in the March double-headers, while the likes of Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, and Cape Verde could yet gate crash the party.

Will any of the big boys miss out on the next round, and can any of the continent's lesser lights take a giant step towards an unlikely berth in Qatar?

Who's qualified so far?

Six sides have already booked their spots in the playoff round. Senegal and Morocco led the way after their opening four fixtures, booking their places in the hat for the March playoffs during the October international break.

This window, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have joined them.

The Pharaohs just needed to avoid defeat away in Angola to get over the line, while Uganda's draw with Kenya was enough to take Mali through with a 3-0 victory over Rwanda.

The DRC have turned qualification around with two superb final victories -- dispatching rivals Tanzania and Benin home and away respectively -- to progress, while Ghana ousted South Africa with a 1-0 victory in Cape Coast on Sunday evening.

It's a bitter blow for Bafana Bafana, who led the group heading into the final round of fixtures, and just needed to avoid defeat in order to advance at Ghana's expense. They, and Benin, were the victims of debatable penalty decisions which ultimately proved decisive as Bafana and the Ecureuils fell by the wayside.

The dead rubbers

There are fixtures still to played in eight of the 10 Second Round groups, with Egypt's meeting with Gabon in Alexandria the most compelling of the 'dead rubbers'.

This is the fixture that could have been Mohamed Salah duelling it out with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a spot in the next round, but the Pharaohs' comeback draw against Angola has put paid to Gabon's hopes.

Salah's injured teammate Naby Keita will miss Guinea's trip to Morocco, but that's also another intriguing clash, despite the Atlas Lions already securing the place in the next round.

The North African heavyweights are finding their feet under Vahid Halilhodzic, whose decision to do without the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Noussair Mazraoui and Amine Harit hasn't prevented Morocco from being the second highest scorers of the group stage so far.

They'll be targeting this fixture as a further opportunity to flex their muscles before a tilt at the African title in Cameroon in January.

- World Cup 2022 qualifying: How it works around the world

Nigeria vs Cape Verde

Nigeria got the job done against Liberia in Tangiers in gameweek five, winning 2-0 via a pair of penalties to take maximum points and retain control of the group heading into Tuesday's showdown with Cape Verde.

The Super Eagles still aren't convincing -- they only secured the victory in second-half stoppage time -- while they struggle to truly impose themselves and are missing a cutting edge in the final third, despite their immense wealth of talent.

However, at home against Cape Verde -- ranked 77th in the world -- in Lagos, they are overwhelming favourites to get the job done.

Nonetheless, the Eagles have choked before -- infamously at home against Angola in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers -- and that 4-4 capitulation against Sierra Leone last year still casts a long shadow.

Cape Verde demonstrated genuine character to come back from a goal down to defeat the Central African Republic 2-1 at home on Saturday, and they'll fear nothing as they travel to Lagos in search of a major upset.

Algeria vs Burkina Faso

Algeria extended their undefeated streak to 32 matches by dispatching Djibouti 4-0 in Cairo on Friday, with Islam Slimani again among the goals to extend his national scoring record to 38.

Their goal difference of +21 is phenomenal -- they struck 14 goals in home games against Djibouti and Niger alone -- although this is irrelevant at this stage of the proceedings, with Algeria unable to finish level on points with second-placed Burkina Faso.

The Stallions are unbeaten in their five qualifiers to date, but ceded the initiative to Algeria when they were held 1-1 in their 'home' game between the pair in September.

If the African champions avoid defeat, they'll advance to the playoffs, whereas Burkina Faso can only overhaul Algeria if they take maximum points in Blida.

The West Africans are a wounded animal heading into this one, with six players -- including goalkeeper Herve Koffi Kouakou, Aston Villa's Bertrand Traore and striker Lassina Traore -- missing with injury ahead of Tuesday's meeting.

They are the kind of absentees that Burkina Faso surely can't afford if they're to pull off an almighty shock, even if the questionable turf at the Stade Tchaker has raised some consternation in the Algerian camp.

Tunisia vs Zambia; Mauritania vs Equatorial Guinea

Group B is the only pool where three teams could still progress to the next round, with Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, and Zambia all still in with a shout of advancing.

The Chipolopolo -- currently third on seven points -- would, however, need an unlikely series of circumstances to progress, as they require victory away in Tunisia and for already eliminated Mauritania to defeat Equatorial Guinea.

A narrow triumph over Tunisia wouldn't be enough either -- due to an inferior goal difference -- so Zambia would need to go to Tunis and take a victory by a three-goal margin minimum in order to advance.

Certainly, they would need to demonstrate the same confidence and boldness they showcased at home against Mauritania on Saturday, as Fashion Sakala scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 rout.

Tunisia, in pole position, must defeat Zambia to guarantee their spot in the next round, as even though they're level on points with Equatorial Guinea, the Carthage Eagles boast a six-goal difference advantage over their fellow World Cup hopefuls.

There's still time, however, for the Nzalang Nacional -- currently ranked 132nd in the world -- to pull off outstanding qualification; all they need to do is defeat Mauritania in Nouakchott and for Tunisia to drop points against Zambia.

Equatorial Guinea are unbeaten since their opener, and after defeating Tunisia at home on Saturday, they'll be confident of doing their bit.

Cameroon vs Ivory Coast

When the 10 groups were initially drawn, this fixture was earmarked as the pick of entire Second Round, and that prediction has certainly come to pass.

We have two of the continent's biggest sides, two massively successful footballing nations -- both multi-time World Cup qualifiers, and each boasting some of the continent's most prominent players.

Unfortunately, only one of them can progress to the final round of qualification, and Group D is particularly finely poised heading into Tuesday's blockbuster.

Both picked up convincing victories over the weekend -- Cameroon 4-0 in Malawi, Ivory Coast 3-0 at home against Mozambique -- and will be in fine fettle when they collide in Douala.

The Elephants are on top in the league table on 13 points to Cameroon's 12, although the Indomitable Lions have home advantage at the Japoma Stadium.

While it would be a bitter humiliation for Cameroon to already be out of the running for Qatar by the time that they host the Africa Cup of Nations in two months, the Elephants have been excellent under Patrice Beaumelle -- taking 23 points out of a possible 27 across the AFCON and World Cup qualifying campaigns.