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World Cup 2026 (Q): Lessons from the first two rounds

Christian Kouakou, Ibrahim Sangare, Jean Eudes Aholou, Jean Philippe Krasso and Jeremie Boga of Ivory Coast celebrate a goal during the 2023 African Cup of Nations Qualifier game between Ivory Coast and Comoros at Stade Bouake in Ivory Coast on 24 March 2023 © Sports Inc - Photo by Icon sport
World Cup 2026 (Q): Lessons from the first two rounds

The first two rounds of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup have delivered their verdict. While some of the big names, such as Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt and Tunisia, have made a real impact, others, such as Nigeria and Ghana, have stumbled. Sport News Africa takes stock.

Of the five African representatives at the 2022 World Cup, three have already taken command of their respective groups on the road to the 2026 tournament. Tunisia, first and foremost, are on top with two wins from as many outings. In Group H, the Aigles de Carthage began with a 4-0 triumph over Sao Tome and Principe, before settling for a 1-0 victory over Malawi on Tuesday November 21. Six points from two games, 5 goals scored and none conceded. An ideal start for Msakni and his team-mates in Group H, where they share the lead with Equatorial Guinea (6 pts, +2).

Senegal's second outing in Pool B on Tuesday, November 21 was an upset. In Togo, the reigning African champions were held to a 0-0 draw and it paid off, as the Togolese multiplied their chances, particularly in the second half .Edouard Mendy had to pull out all the stops with some world-class saves to preserve the draw. Nonetheless, the Senegalese lead the table with 4 points (+4), level with Sudan (4 pts, +1). The DRC (3rd, 3 pts) and Togo (4th, 2 pts) are hanging on. Cameroon (Group D) are another Lions to top their group. Despite a 1-1 draw in Libya on November 21, Rigobert Song's men have 4 points after two rounds, as do Cape Verde and Libya. Last but not least, Morocco won their only match of the World Cup qualifying campaign on Tuesday, with a 2-0 victory in Tanzania. The first match against Eritrea was cancelled as the Eritreans withdrew from the race.

Côte d'Ivoire and Egypt on top

However, the prize of this international window goes to two nations absent from the last World Cup. Firstly, Côte d'Ivoire outclassed the Seychelles 9-0 before overcoming Gambia 2-0 in their Group F match. An ideal preparation before hosting the gotha of African soccer at the AFCON, which kicks off on January 13, 2024. Above all, the Elephants are aiming for a return to the World Cup, which they haven't contested since 2014. The Ivorians lead the way ahead of Gabon, who also have 6 points after two rounds. Another nation to have impressed is Egypt. The Pharaohs, in Pool A, thrashed Djibouti 6-0, with Mohamed Salah scoring four times. This was followed by a 2-0 win over Sierra Leone to add to their confidence and points tally. Finally, Algeria also capitalized on maximum wins in Group G against Somalia (3-1) and Mozambique (2-0).

With their flurry of strikers, Nigeria were expected to put on a show. Instead, we were treated to two damp squibs. The Super Eagles drew twice, against Lesotho and Zimbabwe in Pool C. This despite the fact that coach Peseiro had called on strikers Sadiq Umar, Victor Boniface, Lookman, Simon, Awoniyi, Moffi... Proof that, no matter how luxurious the last stage, the rocket needs a complete assembly to take off. In this group, it's Rwanda who are off to the best start with 4 points, following their 2-0 victory over South Africa on Tuesday. The South Africans (2nd, 3 pts) will need to bounce back if they are to return to the World Cup. Their last appearance was in 2010, a tournament they hosted.

A few surprises

Ghana, who took part in the last World Cup, wanted to take advantage of these qualifiers to reassure themselves. They'll have to go through again. The Black Stars were stunned on Tuesday by the Comoros (1-0). To everyone's surprise, the Coelacanths now lead Pool I with 6 points. However, when the draw was made, no-one expected the Comoros to come up against the two favourites, Mali and Ghana. These two teams are respectively 2nd (4 pts) and 4th (3 pts). Mali and Ghana meet again on Matchday 3 in what promises to be a heated encounter. Madagascar (3 pts) are sandwiched between the two in the standings.

Another sensation was Botswana's 1-0 victory over Guinea on Tuesday. A poor result for the Guineans (3 pts), who have already lost ground to Algeria.

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