The international break has almost come to an end, and we now know all but one of the ties for the second round of Caf’s World Cup qualifiers.
The 41 teams that remain in contention will all be aware that a place at the global showcase in Russia is still some distance away, but for those who have advanced past the first round of qualifiers, the hope will still be burning brightly that they can run the gauntlet and steal a spot among the world’s finest in three summers’ time.
However, in the second round, the continent’s heavyweights are introduced, and the minnows that have sneaked through to this point will be under no illusion that tougher tests await them.
According to the Fifa world rankings, Djibouti are the lowest-ranked team left in contention, but as they are yet to play the second leg of their first round qualifier (the only match outstanding from the opening contests), their place among Africa’s final 40 is far from assured. Indeed, considering that the Shoremen of the Red Sea fell to a 6-0 defeat to Sihlangu Semnikati in the opening leg, it’s safe to say that they won’t be advancing!
Instead, Nigeria—the only team waiting to know their second-round opponents—are likely to face Swaziland, ranked 135th in Africa.
Despite their troubles, Nigeria will be overwhelming favourites to beat Swaziland (or Djibouti)
Assuming Djibouti don’t pull off the upset of all upsets, the Comoros will be the lowest-ranked nation still standing in round two. Only four African nations—Somalia, Eritrea, Sao Tome e Principe and the aforementioned Djibouti—sit lower than the islanders in the Fifa World Ranking, with Les Coelecantes classed 193rd in the world at the time of writing.
However, after seeing off Lesotho on away goals, Amir Abdou’s side can look forward to a glamour tie against Ghana.
We don’t expect Avram Grant and the Black Stars will have too many sleepless nights over that one!
Ghana will likely be facing the lowest-ranked team left in the qualification process
Based on the world rankings, Tanzania have the toughest task of all of Africa’s nations.
The Taifa Stars impressed in the first round, and saw off Malawi, but their reward is a double header against Algeria. Les Fennecs may have struggled at the 2015 Cup of Nations, but they remain Africa’s top-ranked side (19th in the world) and are overwhelming favourites to advance to the group stage.
Kenya and South Africa both also have testing challenges ahead.
Can Kenya overcome familiar failings to see off Cape Verde?
The Harambee Stars comfortably defeated Mauritius in the first round—mainly thanks to a first leg 5-2 triumph away—but some familiar failings were present in the return in Nairobi, and the East Africans will be outsiders to see off Cape Verde.
South Africa knew their fate before the first round, and are set to meet Angola in round two, with the first match on November 13 and the return leg four days later.
Will Shakes Mashaba and Bafana Bafana still be smiling after the second round?
Elsewhere, the battle between the 2015 Cup of Nations hosts Equatorial Guinea and the would-be 2015 Cup of Nations hosts Morocco will be fascinating to watch, while reigning champions Cote d’Ivoire should back themselves to see off fellow West Africans Liberia.
Complete Caf World Cup qualifying second round draw
Niger vs. Cameroon
Mauritania vs. Tunisia
Namibia vs. Guinea
Ethiopia vs. Congo
Chad vs. Egypt
Comoros vs. Ghana
Swaziland or Djibouti vs. Nigeria
Botswana vs. Mali
Burundi vs. DR Congo
Liberia vs. Cote d’Ivoire
Madagascar vs. Senegal
Kenya vs. Cape Verde
Tanzania vs. Algeria
Sudan vs. Zambia
Libya vs. Rwanda
Morocco vs. Equatorial Guinea
Mozambique vs. Gabon
Benin vs. Burkina Faso
Togo vs. Uganda
Angola vs. South Africa