Africa has taken a break from the 2017 Cup of Nations qualifying to get in their preliminary round of World Cup qualifying. Starting on October 7, there will be 13 head-to-head matches to determine which teams move on to the 2nd round. By October 13, the 13 losers will join the 33 teams who have either been eliminated or banned from World Cup 2018 competition. Below, we’ll take a look at how we expect things to shake out in the early rounds, and where teams could potentially be headed.
Match 1: Somalia v. Niger
Niger is a massive favorite in this tilt, and to make matters worse, Somalia will “host” their game in neighboring Ethiopia due to security concerns. Somalia will be playing their first competitive match since December 2013. They’re our lowest ranked team in CAF. In their past 10 matches, Somalia has 2 goals for and 36 goals against. Against just about any team, they’d be a massive underdog. Against Niger, who is especially tough at home, a victory is very unlikely. Niger is the biggest favorite in Round 1.
The winner moves on to take on Cameroon. Cameroon will be favored to defeat Niger should they advance, but we think Niger is a pretty solid team that won’t go down easy.
Odds to Advance: Niger 87.52%, Somalia 12.48%
Match 2: South Sudan v. Mauritania
If you asked us a month ago who we liked here, it would be a runaway for Mauritania. We still lean a good deal towards Mauritania, but South Sudan got their first competitive victory in a defeat over Equatorial Guinea. That’s huge for team morale. After being outscored 26-2 in their previous 11 matches, South Sudan surely believes at this point that a victory in this tie is attainable, and our odds seem to support that possibility. Mauritania should be receiving the same accolades. They dismantled South Africa 3-1. They lost narrowly at Cameroon in June. Mauritania is definitely one of the better teams in the preliminary round, and we think they show it and move on.
The winner moves on to take on Tunisia. Again, it’s hard to see either of these teams getting by Tunisia, but a matchup with Mauritania would certainly be interesting. Bound to be low scoring, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Mauritania pulls an upset.
Odds to Advance: Mauritania 71.97%, South Sudan 28.03%
Match 3: Gambia v. Namibia
This is the premier tilt in our eyes in Round 1. Believe it or not, these are our two highest ranked teams in the entire round. And they pulled a great team in Round 2 in Guinea. We use 18 months of data, and we’re obviously much higher on Gambia than most. But their past 4 matches: Home defeat by 1 to Cameroon, draw at South Africa, draw at Uganda, home win over Mauritania. They’ve had a great 2015, and it looks like taking a year and a half away from the game has really helped Gambia. Namibia is pretty solid themselves. They won May’s COSAFA Cup, and have risen to the top 100 in our rankings. It’s unfortunate for Namibia that they pulled a real solid team from Pot 2. We don’t project any match to be closer than this.
And as we mentioned, the winner will take on Guinea, who has just 4 points from 8 matches in 2015. They’ve been dreadful, with losses to Swaziland and Chad. Any of these 3 could emerge and reach the group stage.
Odds to Advance: Gambia 55.71%, Namibia 44.29%
Match 4: Sao Tome e Principe v. Ethiopia
All of the teams in Pot 1 for the draw wanted the bottom feeders of Pot 2. Ethiopia drew Sao Tome, and they must be ecstatic. Sao Tome has played just 4 matches in the past 3 years. They’ve lost all 4 by a combined 14-1. Ethiopia certainly isn’t a world beater in CAF, but they should be able to handle their business here. For Ethiopia’s shortcomings, they beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. We definitely feel, however, that there are bigger favorites than Ethiopia. You could see an upset.
The winner moves on to take on Congo. We certainly like Congo to see their way through, but it won’t be easy for them either. Ethiopia could put up a good fight if they make it through.
Odds to Advance: Ethiopia 67.84%, Sao Tome e Principe 32.16%
Match 5: Chad v. Sierra Leone
Another real good match that we think will be pretty tight. It’s a huge blow for Sierra Leone to continue playing their “home” matches in Nigeria. The Ebola scare is supposedly gone, but it’s just hard to finally get that first back. As such, we give the slight edge to Chad in this match. Neither team is playing particularly well. In the 8 matches since Sierra Leone had to move matches away from home, they have just 2 points, with 3 goals scored and 15 conceded. Firing a good manager like Johnny McKinstry was not the answer, and was a very poor decision. Chad got blasted by Egypt in September, so that performance can’t inspire a ton of confidence. This will be a close tie.
Poor Chad can’t get away from Egypt, and if they win, don’t be surprised to see a similar fate to their recent AFCON Qualifying result. Egypt looks very strong to head through to the group stage.
Odds to Advance: Chad 58.04%, Sierra Leone 41.96%
Match 6: Comoros v. Lesotho
Lesotho did a nice job to get into Pot 1, and got a pretty good draw getting Comoros. They’ve played a TON of matches in the past 4 years. 46 matches to be exact. That’s a huge number for an African team who doesn’t reach tournament finals. They didn’t get out of their group at the previously mentioned COSAFA Cup, and the teams in that tournament weren’t the top in Africa. And Comoros hangs tough. They took a 2 and a half year break, and it also appears to have paid dividends. Although they have just 2 points from 5 matches since the start of 2014, they’ve only conceded 6 goals in those matches. Don’t expect this one to be a major blowout. We like Lesotho, but Comoros has a very good shot to knock them off.
The winner gets Ghana, and that’s really bad news. Ghana should blow both of these teams out of the water. We have Ghana a full 4 goals ahead of Lesotho, so it would be a major shock to see either of these two get to the group stage.
Odds to Advance: Lesotho 60.43%, Comoros 39.57%
Match 7: Djibouti v. Swaziland
Swaziland was the last team in Pot 1, and they drew the last team in Pot 2. Great success. Djibouti resurfaced in AFCON 2017 qualifying after a 3.5 year hiatus. It did not go well. They were blasted 8-1 at Tunisia, but had a much more respectable 2-0 home defeat to Togo. They’ve lost 7 straight with 3 goals for and 28 conceded. And Swaziland has been playing well. No defeats in their past five matches and only 3 in their past 14. They’ve tickled the twine in 9 straight matches, and we really like them to put a hurtin’ on Djibouti.
The winner advances to take on Nigeria, and man is that one we want to see. We’d obviously favor Nigeria, but Swaziland could put a real scare into the Nigerians. You never know what kind of effort you’re going to get from that team.
Odds to Advance: Swaziland 85.81%, Djibouti 14.19%
Match 8: Eritrea v. Botswana
Eritrea also doesn’t appear very frequently on the footballing stage. Many of their players tend to defect, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the same thing this time around. It’s very hard to build a competitive squad when players want to leave the country. It’s even harder when you come up against a seasoned team like Botswana who’s fresh off a huge qualifying win over Burkina Faso. Little is known about Eritrea, but it would be a major shock to defeat Botswana. It would be huge for the country, but it seems unlikely to happen.
It will be interesting, however, to see what would happen in a Botswana-Mali tie. Mali is one of those teams which never do well in our rankings for one reason or another. Yet they always seem to wind up OK. They’re the Italy of Africa in our rankings. They’d probably squeak by Botswana.
Odds to Advance: Botswana 73.86%, Eritrea 26.14%
Match 9: Seychelles v. Burundi
Seychelles picked up a tough point against Ethiopia in AFCON qualifying. They’re no slouch at home. But it’s away from home that really gives them difficulty. They barely score, and concede almost 3 per match. And Burundi can really score at home. They have 13 goals at home in their past 8 matches. They’re a pretty solid team, and they got a home win in September over a decent Niger squad. The real question here will be can Seychelles stop Burundi from poking through a couple. If Burundi gets even two, Seychelles may not be able to score enough to get through. We like Burundi to continue their recent form.
The winner gets Congo DR. It’s not great, but it’s certainly better than drawing one of the big boys. A Burundi v. Congo DR match could be very interesting and produce an upset. We’re rooting for that matchup.
Odds to Advance: Burundi 82.82%, Seychelles 17.18%
Match 10: Liberia v. Guinea-Bissau
Liberia pulled off a massive upset and took out Tunisia at home. As is the case with many African teams, Liberia is very tough at home. They’ve taken on good teams and not only played them tough, but got points as well. But they’ve conceded 19 times in their past 7 road matches. Luckily for them, they’ve drawn a Guinea-Bissau side which consistently struggles. They’ve had good opposition, but not the results. This matchup certainly isn’t going to be a runaway, but we view Liberia as the team to beat here.
The bad news? The winner has to take on the Ivory Coast in the next round. That’s really bad news. We don’t think there’s much of a chance for either team to get to the group stage. It’s possible, but awful unlikely.
Odds to Advance: Liberia 60.74%, Guinea-Bissau 39.26%
Match 11: Central African Republic v. Madagascar
This should be a fun one. We actually like Madagascar a decent amount. Their story is similar to one you’ve heard here many times. Took a full 2 years off from football to regroup. And since they returned in May 2014, results have actually been really good. They have 5 wins, 4 draws, and 4 losses. They’ve also looked tough in AFCON qualifying, which helps them out. We had Central African Republic dead to rights. They hadn’t won a match in 3 years, and they came out against Congo DR and put a hurting on them. Totally out of nowhere. Which is the real CAR team? The one that defeated DR or the one that lost back-to-back matches 4-0 to Angola and Morocco? We’re leaning more towards the latter, but this should be a good one.
And the winner earns the right to get Senegal. We don’t see any reason why Senegal wouldn’t clean up against either of these teams. It’s an extreme longshot for one of them to get through.
Odds to Advance: Madagascar 62.03%, Central African Republic 37.97%
Match 12: Mauritius v. Kenya
No world beaters here either. Kenya got fairly lucky to draw a team who does not perform well against good competition. Against our top 100, they’ve allowed 23 goals in 7 matches (all defeats). But who knows what to expect from Kenya at this point. They’re last win against a team in our top 150 was 2 years ago. We don’t see an overwhelming favorite here, but if a giant nation like Kenya can’t get by Mauritius, there are going to be big problems.
The winner draws Cape Verde, who we believe is a much better team than either of these two. Cape Verde is one of the best in Africa at the moment, and will present a real challenge for the winner of the first match.
Odds to Advance: Kenya 63.80%, Mauritius 36.20%
Match 13: Tanzania v. Malawi
This is going to be an interesting one. Both of these teams play so many games. In the past 4 years, Tanzania has played 57. Malawi has played 54. Unfortunately, each team averages just around a goal per match. Tanzania has really been struggling. Only 1 win in their past 14 matches, and they fell all the way to the bottom pot for the draw. Tanzania finally got a good result with a home 0-0 draw against Nigeria in AFCON qualifying. That ended a 13 match streak without a clean sheet. Tanzania has to be better at the back if they want to progress. Malawi is a tough team to judge. They lose at Egypt by one and then turn around and lose at home to Zimbabwe by 1. Where is there true quality? Ultimately, we think it is a decent side and one that is a little better than Tanzania at the moment.
The winner has the luxury of taking on Algeria in what is sure to be an ugly affair. Algeria is our top ranked team in CAF, and we expect them to cruise into the group stage.
Odds to Advance: Malawi 68.64%, Tanzania 31.36%
Thanks for reading, and we hope this rundown brings some excitement to matchups you may not know much about. There are a ton of matches coming up, and it’s difficult to keep track of them all. WGF has you covered.
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