Africa stands still, as race to Russia reaches final hurdle
The African continent will this weekend stand still in anticipation as the third and last round of African qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup draws to a close.
Three of the five tickets to next year’s tournament in Russia are still up for grabs, with the remaining two already snatched by Nigeria and Egypt.
But there is still all to play for in Groups A, C and D of the qualifiers, to make this weekend and the matches unique.
Newsmen report that in Group A, leaders Tunisia hold a three-point advantage over the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This weekend, the Leopards are set to face Guinea, while the North Africans are at home to Libya.
The Tunisians who are on 13 points require just a point to secure their place at the World Cup finals for the first time since 2006.
However, if they lose, DR Congo on ten points can overtake them but may need to win by at least two goals.
Both will be level on goal difference should Tunisia lose 1-2 to Libya and DR Congo beat Guinea 1-0, and in that scenario, Tunisia will go through on the head-to-head rule.
Group C is delicately poised between Morocco and Cote d’ Ivoire, with the pair set for battle in a crunch encounter in Abidjan on Saturday.
As things stand, table-toppers Morocco with 10 points hold a slim advantage as they lead the table by just a point, closely followed by the Ivorians on eight points.
The situation is quite simple though as the Moroccans will qualify if they avoid defeat against the Ivorians in Abidjan.
Meanwhile the Ivorians, who will be counting on their home advantage, must win if they are to top the section and pip Morocco to the ticket.
Just as intriguing is the situation in Group D, where all of the teams in the group have a chance of qualifying.
There are actually three matches still to be played, including South Africa-Senegal, and it makes it a dicey affair.
The South Africa-Senegal match which originally took place in November 2016 will now be replayed on Friday as per the recent decision of the Bureau for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
In the event that Senegal record a win in South Africa, they would be assured of finishing in first place and travelling to Russia next year.
A draw may also be enough for Senegal, if four days later the Burkina Faso-Cape Verde match ends in a stalemate.
Conversely, should South Africa record a win in the replayed encounter then that would leave all four sides still very much in the hunt with one match remaining.
However, the South Africans who remain at the bottom of their World Cup qualifying group are sweating on the fitness of first-choice goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune.
He recently picked up an injury and his absence can be a huge blow for Bafana Bafana who were beaten back-to-back by Cape Verde the last time Khune was missing.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is expected to hold from June 14 to July 15 in Russia with 32 teams in attendance.
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