African contenders vie for final AFCON 2022 slots

March 24 – African teams enter the final stretch of qualifying today (Wednesday) for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, with 19 spots still up for grabs. Some matches will be played with fans in the stands.

The continental finals have been postponed to 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the final two rounds of qualifiers being completed during this international window to finalise the field of 24 participants. Hosts Cameroon, five times Africa Cup of Nations winners, Mali, Senegal, Tunisia and defending champions Algeria have already ensured their ticket for next year’s competition, but there will be plenty of drama and intrigue in the next few days as no less than 19 places have been left undecided.

Even before any matches were played, teams ran into trouble as the French LFP last week decided to not release non-EU players for international duty, citing the Covid-19 pandemic, essentially imposing a travel ban hitting the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers.

The pandemic however won’t prevent some matches from being played in front of a limited number of fans. Earlier this year, Cameroon hosted the African Nations Championship with supporters allowed to attend matches and spectators will once again return to the stands for some of these crunch ties.

In a statement, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) said that Burundi vs Central African Republican would have 5,000 authorised spectators, Madagascar vs Niger 1,500, Comoros vs Togo and Sudan vs South Africa 1,000 and Mauritania vs Morocco 900. Nigeria vs Lesotho will be played at 30% of stadium capacity.

Guinea are expected to qualify from Group A, behind Mali. In Group B, all four nations can still progress with Burkina Faso on eight points, Uganda on seven, Malawi on four and South Sudan on three points.

On Thursday, heavyweights Ghana and South Africa, tied at the top of Group C on nine points, will meet. Both countries need one win apiece to reach Cameroon. Group D is evenly poised with Gambia, Gabon and DR Congo in the hunt for two tickets. Gabon however will be without their talismanic striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who did not travel for the qualifiers due to travel restrictions. Gambia, coached by Tom Saintfiet from Belgium, can qualify for the first time ever for the Africa Cup of Nations.

In Group E, Mauritania, Burundi and the CAR will be battling it out for one ticket behind already qualified Morocco. Mauritania will be looking to qualify for their second consecutive finals. It’s another three-way battle in Group F where Mozambique, on five points, have the best cards with Cape Verde on four points and Rwanda bottom on two points. Cameroon, on ten points, have qualified automatically.

In Group G, Egypt and Comoros have destiny in their own hands with eight points. They need one win apiece to seal qualification with Kenya having mustered just three draws and Togo already eliminated on one point.

Algeria have already ensured progress from Group H, leaving local rivals Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia to fight it out for the remaining ticket. The Zambians, two times champions, will be able to count on Patson Daka, but Zimbabwe will be without several key players who couldn’t travel from France and England.

In Group I, Congo are in pole position to snatch the last ticket behind Senegal, who have already qualified. Leaders Tunisia have progressed from Group J, with Libya and Tanzania in contention for the group’s other ticket.

In Group K, favorites Ivory Coast will be made to work until the final round of matches. They are joint top on seven points with Madagascar. Ethiopia are breathing in both teams’ neck on six points.

Finally, Nigeria should qualify from Group L, where they lead the way on eight points. The Super Eagles face Benin and Lesotho to wrap up their qualifying campaign.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1618298545labto1618298545ofdlr1618298545owedi1618298545sni@o1618298545fni1618298545