With just over 14 months until the start of the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, Africa’s qualification tournament gets serious with the start of the group stage. Matchday 1 sees no less than 20 games played across the continent from Wednesday, 1 to Friday, 3 September 2021.
The big kick-off has already seen some turmoil, with a combination of teams beset by selection issues (complications over player availability due to ‘red list’ Covid-19 travel concerns) and several punished by the Confederation of African Football for the poor state of their venues by playing ‘home’ matches at neutral venues, but the drama of World Cup qualifying almost never fails to enthral.
This phase features 10 groups of four teams each, playing on a round-robin basis. After six matchdays – 1 and 2 in September; 3 and 4 in October; and 5 and 6 in November – the top team from each group will advance to the final playoff round next March, from which the five qualifiers for Qatar will be determined.
The action gets under way on the afternoon of Wednesday, 1 September at the neutral venue of Stade de la Reunification in Douala, Cameroon, where ‘hosts’ Central African Republic will take on the Cape Verde Islands in Group C.
The headline match on Wednesday sees Senegal welcome Togo to Stade Lat Dior in Thies for a West African derby. The Teranga Lions are among the favourites to secure qualification for the 2022 finals and coach Aliou Cisse will be targeting a fast start in Group H, which also features Namibia and Congo.
Thursday, 2 September opens with an East African derby between Kenya and Uganda in Nairobi and also sees the entrance of a heavyweight trio of North African teams. Reigning continental champions Algeria are expected to comfortably defeat Djibouti in their Group A clash in Blida; Egypt, even without Mohamed Salah, will be favourites against Angola in a Group F game in Cairo; and Morocco tackle Sudan in a Group I match in Rabat.
Egypt coach Hossam El Badry is focused on taking the Pharaohs, who appeared at Russia 2018, to successive World Cups for the first time in their history.
“I was confident that we would reach the Africa Cup of Nations as the group winners and I’m also confident that we will make it to the World Cup finals,” he stated.
Friday, 3 September opens with Ivory Coast travelling to Maputo for a Group D clash with Mozambique, as the Elephants look for a return to the global showpiece after missing the 2018 edition.
“Following the players and putting them in the right position so that they can play well together is my long-term project, so far it is going very well,” said Ivory Coast coach Patrice Beaumelle.
“After that, we are a solid team that is difficult to move. Now, we will get to the heart of the matter with these two matches counting for the World Cup qualifiers and prepare well for this next Afcon which is coming with great strides.”
Friday also sees Nigeria open their Group C campaign at home to Liberia in Lagos, with coach Gernot Rohr acknowledging the need for a strong start: “We will be ready in September for the World Cup qualifiers,” the German tactician insisted.
“We have to start well in Lagos and four days later, we play in Cape Verde. Cape Verde beat Cameroon 3-1 on their synthetic pitch recently. So, we know already that it will be very difficult. Our first two matches are very, very important.”
Friday also sees Cameroon and Ghana at home to Malawi and Ethiopia respectively; Tunisia will seek a strong start to their quest for a sixth World Cup appearance when they host Equatorial Guinea; and a Group G scrap between regional rivals Zimbabwe and South Africa in Harare could well prove to be the game of the day.
The second matchday will see a further 20 fixtures played from Sunday, 5 to Tuesday, 7 September.
AFRICAN 2022 WORLD CUP QUALIFYING FIXTURES, 1-3 SEPTEMBER 2021 (TIMES GMT)
WEDNESDAY, 1 SEPTEMBER
1pm: Central African Republic v Cape Verde
4pm: Senegal v Togo
4pm: Guinea-Bissau v Guinea
7pm: Mali v Rwanda
7pm: Libya v Gabon
THURSDAY, 2 SEPTEMBER
1pm: Kenya v Uganda
1pm: DR Congo v Tanzania
4pm: Niger v Burkina Faso
4pm: Namibia v Congo
4pm: Madagascar v Benin
7pm: Algeria v Djibouti
7pm: Egypt v Angola
7pm: Morocco v Sudan
FRIDAY, 3 SEPTEMBER
11am: Mozambique v Ivory Coast
11am: Zimbabwe v South Africa
2pm: Mauritania v Zambia
2pm: Nigeria v Liberia
5pm: Tunisia v Equatorial Guinea
5pm: Cameroon v Malawi
5pm: Ghana v Ethiopia