Starting this weekend, 14 nations will contest home and away fixtures to see which 7 progress to the 3rd round of AFCON Qualifying. 21 teams which qualified directly await their final opponents. The teams will be placed into 7 groups of 4, where 15 nations will emerge to reach the 2015 Finals in Morocco.
We’ll take a look at each of the matchups and who we project to win.
Kenya v Lesotho
7/20/2014 – Maseru, Lesotho
8/3/2014 – Nairobi, Kenya
How They Got Here: Each team advanced out of the First Round by equal 2-1 aggregate totals. But they certainly shouldn’t be viewed the same. Kenya was widely believed to be the superior team to Comoros, but they did not show it. Add to that an uninspiring 0-0 home draw to Burundi, and it is fair to wonder whether this team is a bit overrated. Lesotho pulled somewhat of an upset by coming back to defeat Liberia. This is a pretty impressive result, as Lesotho did not get out of the Preliminary Round in 2013 and didn’t even enter in 2012! Of course a 2-0 defeat at Botswana in their warm up friendly was disappointing.
History: These teams have met on 4 previous occasions, but only once since 2000. 3 of those 4 matches have ended in draws including last summer’s COSAFA Cup. In that tournament Kenya was eliminated at the group stage while Lesotho made a run to the semifinals. History certainly isn’t on the side of either team here.
What Awaits: The winner of this match will head into Group C to meet Burkina Faso, Angola, and Gabon. That’s not exactly a gauntlet of opponents. Should one of these teams advance (especially the Harambee Stars), there’s a decent chance they could qualify for the finals. It won’t be easy to navigate, but it is feasible.
Prediction: On paper, we think Kenya is the favorite to advance, but since winning the 2013 CECAFA Cup on home soil, Kenya has been less than inspiring. Lesotho is certainly an up and coming African nation, but is it their time yet? It’s hard to tell. We think this will be a little closer than our rankings seem to indicate.
Odds of Advancing: Kenya 75.66%, Lesotho 24.34%
Uganda v Mauritania
7/19/2014 – Kampala, Uganda
8/3/2014 – Nouakchott, Mauritania
How They Got Here: This is the only matchup where neither team truly “won” their matchup. Uganda finished even on aggregate with Madagascar, but advanced on away goals. Uganda was down 2-0 in the road leg, and were fortunate to be able to pull one back at the spot in stoppage time. They got the goal they needed in the 2nd leg and were able to hang on and advance. Mauritania was actually eliminated from the tournament by Equatorial Guinea. But yet again, Equatorial Guinea fielded an ineligible player and were subsequently disqualified, allowing Mauritania to progress.
It is fair to wonder here what the deal is. The ineligible player had 14 caps for Equatorial Guinea since 2011. Why was this ruling put into play now? Regardless, it is Mauritania who is through.
History: These teams have only met once, but it was not at the same level. Uganda defeated Mauritania 3-0 in a CHAN 2014 warmup. It’s hard to take much from that match.
What Awaits: The winner will head into Group E, and it is not pretty. Ghana, Togo and Guinea are all ranked among our Top 10 in CAF. That’s bad news for whoever advances. It’s arguably the toughest group in qualifying. If either of these two are able to qualify for the finals, it would be a major upset.
Prediction: We’re probably going against the grain here, but our rankings have liked Mauritania for awhile. We’re higher on them than most. Subsequently, Uganda has been rather unimpressive. As we said, they were level with Madagascar in the last round. In two recent home friendlies, they drew 0-0 with Malawi and defeated Seychelles by just 1-0. Again, unimpressive. We slightly favor Mauritania in the unlikely “upset”.
Odds of Advancing: Mauritania 59.54%, Uganda 40.46%
Congo v Rwanda
7/20/2014 – Pointe-Noire, Congo
8/2/2014 – Kigali, Rwanda
How They Got Here: Both teams won by similar 3-0 scorelines at home in the 2nd leg of their qualifiers. But it was certainly under different circumstances. Congo made up for an embarrassing defeat to Namibia by taking care of business. Rwanda defeated heavily favored Libya. Rwanda appointed coach Stephen Constantine just 3 days before their road match at Libya, and it appears to have been the right move. The 3 matches with Constantine at the helm have yielded 2 wins and a draw against quality opponents. Of course a Daddy Birori hat trick doesn’t hurt. Each team deserves to be at this point, and this is one of our closest matchups.
History: The only time these two teams met was back in 2002 AFCON Qualifying. Rwanda led the after the first leg 2-1, but Congo righted the ship to thrash Rwanda 5-1 in the return leg. Those matches were so long ago that any history is irrelevant at this point.
What Awaits: The winner of this matchup is sent to Group A alongside Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan. Nigeria is obviously the heavy favorite to finish top of the group, but it is possible to pass Sudan to finish at least 3rd. It may be a long shot, but it’s certainly not as bad as Groups E or G. Another Bafana Bafana flameout is certainly not unthinkable.
Prediction: As we said, this is going to be very close. We currently have Congo slightly ahead of Rwanda, but Rwanda’s recent form has been inspiring. Congo has just 5 points from their last 6 matches, so it would not be a surprise to see either team advance. We’ll give the slight edge to Congo, but if they are unable to secure all 3 points in the first leg, expect Rwanda to advance.
Odds of Advancing: Congo 54.78%, Rwanda 45.22%
Botswana v Guinea-Bissau
7/19/2014 – Gaborone, Botswana
8/2/2014 – Bissau, Guinea-Bissau
How They Got Here: Botswana took care of Burundi in unimpressive fashion. It took 147 minutes of game action for them to finally break through. That lone goal was the aggregate scoreline of 1-0. Perhaps out of frustration, they will play in Gaborone instead of Lobatse. Guinea-Bissau, meanwhile, hadn’t played a competitive match in almost two years before defeating Central African Republic. In fact, prior to ripping off 3 goals in the first half, Guinea-Bissau hadn’t scored a goal in a competitive match since November 2011. But they each were the better team in the First Round, so this should be a good one.
History: None. These teams have never met before.
What Awaits: The aforementioned difficult Group G. Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal is an unfortunate pairing. If either is able to avoid last place in that group, it would be a major victory and the coach of the last place team would surely be sacked. Unfortunately for these teams, AFCON 2015 may be a dream too far out of reach. Getting stuck in a group like this is the reason teams need to get into higher pots and avoid heavyweights.
Prediction: While Guinea-Bissau didn’t play a match for almost 2 years, Botswana played 22 matches during that time period. Botswana also won their 2 preparation friendlies, albeit at home, by 2 goals each. They are the more seasoned team, and while Guinea-Bissau’s win was impressive, Central African Republic is not a team we rate very highly. It’s tough when a team has so few games to work with, but we think Botswana should emerge from this tie as victors.
Odds of Advancing: Botswana 70.60%, Guinea-Bissau 29.40%
Sierra Leone v Seychelles
7/19/2014 – Freetown, Sierra Leone
8/2/2014 – Victoria, Seychelles
How They Got Here: Sierra Leone struggled with Swaziland, but ultimately they were able to emerge as victors via a 66th minute penalty. Seychelles had the benefit of being drawn with Gambia and advanced without even playing a match. Someone at the Gambia federation found it acceptable to field a 25 year old player at a U-20 competition deliberately. Interesting decision. Had the matches been played, it’s fair to wonder whether Seychelles would have advanced. We currently have them ahead of only Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti as lowest in Africa.
History: None. These teams have also never met. Not surprising considering Seychelles is in the Indian Ocean and Sierra Leone is on the Western coast of Africa.
What Awaits: Oh just 2 World Cup teams in Group D in Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Congo DR is not as intimidating a 3rd opponent as some other groups, but they’re no slouch either. We have Sierra Leone as the highest ranked team playing in the 2nd round, so if there were a team to challenge these giants, it would be them. In all likelihood, a 2nd place finish is probably a little ambitious, but they could sneak in as 3rd place and cause some ruckus.
Prediction: This is our most lopsided 2nd round match. As indicated, Sierra Leone is our highest ranked 2nd Round team left, and Seychelles is our lowest ranked team left. It is a little curious as to why Sierra Leone refuses to play friendlies, but it shouldn’t hamper them too much. Anything other than a Sierra Leone victory would be considered a massive upset.
Odds to Advance: Sierra Leone 89.71%, Seychelles 10.29%
Benin v Malawi
7/20/2014 – Cotonou, Benin
8/2/2014 – Blantyre, Malawi
How They Got Here: Believe it or not, Benin was the only team to win both legs of their first round. Benin has also scored a goal in 10 of their past 11 matches, so it was no surprise to see them bag a couple against Sao Tome e Principe. They got 3 goals from captain Stephane Sessegnon, who plays in the Premier League. Malawi, meanwhile, should feel VERY fortunate to be in this position. After defeating Chad 2-0 at home, they conceded 3 goals in the first 36 minutes to go down 3-2 on aggregate. Needing a goal on the road to advance, they tallied in the 60th minute and held on to a 3-1 defeat, which was enough to advance on away goals.
History: None. This is a common theme in the 2nd Round.
What Awaits: Group B is arguably the weakest of all in the 3rd Round. Yes, Algeria is one of the best teams in Africa, but Mali and Ethiopia certainly are not. Whoever emerges will certainly have a chance to finish 3rd or even 2nd among those opponents. Mali was far and away the weakest team in Pot 1 for the draw, but as you can see, look how much Mali’s chances of qualifying improved by being in Pot 1. Imagine if they were in Pot 3 and drew Ivory Coast and Algeria instead.
Prediction: Benin is a pretty good team. They have some trouble against tougher competition, but they certainly do not play down to their opponents. Malawi has just 3 wins in their past 18 matches, and all of them are against teams outside of our Top 130. We rank Benin #86. We give the edge to Benin here, and if it is indeed Benin, they are certainly a threat to advance all the way to Morocco 2015.
Odds of Advancing: Benin 69.30%, Malawi 30.70%
Tanzania v Mozambique
7/20/2014 – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
8/2/2014 – Maputo, Mozambique
How They Got Here: Each team won their home leg and held serve on the road to advance. But Tanzania had a far more intimidating opponent in Zimbabwe than Mozambique did in South Sudan. Zimbabwe is in our Top 100, and defeating them is very impressive for Tanzania. Rising star Thomas Uliimwengu put the Taifa Stars ahead for good with an early strike in the 2nd half. Seeing Mozambique pour in 5 against South Sudan was a little unexpected. They had scored a total of 9 goals in their previous 17 matches.
History: These are the only teams playing in the 2nd round that share a border. This just adds to the excitement. These teams have met on 7 previous occasions. Their last meetings were in AFCON 2013 Qualifying. Both matches ended 1-1, and Mozambique went on to win in penalties. Mozambique has 3 wins, Tanzania has 1, and they’ve drawn 3 times.
What Awaits: The winner heads to Group F, which appears to be a group of opportunity. Niger is the team we ranked the lowest to automatically advance to the 3rd round. We have both of these teams ranked ahead of Niger. We also have neither Cape Verde nor Zambia ranked among our top 60 teams in the world. Not only do we expect the winner to finish in at worst 3rd, there’s an extremely great opportunity to advance directly to the finals.
Prediction: This is going to be one of the most hotly contested matchups in this round. We have just 4 places in our rankings separating these two teams. They went to penalties in the last AFCON edition’s qualification round. These teams share a border. It will be very interesting as Mozambique has players all over the world that must gel together at the right time. Tanzania is almost entirely local based players who know each other very well. Don’t expect a lot of goals in these matches, but don’t expect anything less than thrilling football. This one could be headed to penalties yet again.
Odds to Advance: Mozambique 52%, Tanzania 48%
Thanks for reading. We hope you enjoy the qualifiers as much as we do. Once these matches conclude, the group stage will run from September through November. There are a lot of matches to be played, and we’ll have predictions for all of them.
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