The final round of Africa’s qualifying matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar got underway this week with 10 thrilling clashes.
The final playoff games will see 10 countries vying for the continent’s five slots at the World Cup to be played in Qatar later this year.
The continent’s heavyweights come up against each other in two-legged matches to decide which sides qualify for the global competition.
The highlight of the matches will be between Africa Cup of Nations finalists Senegal and Egypt as well as the clash between long-standing arch-rivals Ghana and Nigeria.
Nigeria take on Ghana in the 20,000 –capacity Cape Coast Sports Stadium from 7.30pm on Friday, March 25, with the reverse leg set for the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Tuesday, March 29, from 6pm.
The winner over two legs will earn one of Africa’s five tickets to the 22nd FIFA World Cup finals, scheduled for November 14 to December 18 this year in Qatar.
Cameroon will take on Algeria in another fiery encounter, Mali play Tunisia in a tricky tie while DR Congo clash with Morocco.
The matches are expected to be fiery thanks to the presence of some of the world’s best footballers in all the sides that will play in the final round of qualifiers.
Here are 10 players expected to shine on the path to Qatar 2022, according to cafonline. com.
Algeria – Riyad Mahrez
The Desert Foxes will be relying on the Manchester City winger Mahrez to weave the magic against their tough opponents Cameroon to qualify for Qatar. Algeria, who were winners of the 2019 TotalEnergies, were unimpressive when defending their title last month and were eliminated at the group stage. They are hoping to appease their fans and with Mahrez in the squad the Foxes are confident he would replicate the form that has seen him score 22 goals in all competitions for the English giants so far this season. The winger, who can also play in attack, was instrumental when Leicester City won the English Premier League title for the first time in the 2018/2019 season. He has since moved to Manchester City where has also bagged several titles.
Cameroon – Vincent Aboubakar
The Indomitable Lions will be counting on the ingenuity of the Saudi Arabia-based striker who has led the side with aplomb in recent games. The attacker, who has so far scored eight times for Al Nassr in 22 outings, was instrumental in when Cameroon finished third at the country’s recent hosting of the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations. With eight goals in seven matches, Aboubakar was the top scorer of the AFCON and made the Team of the Tournament. He must be at his best for Cameroon to be able to defeat the wounded Algerians in their two-legged matches.
DR Congo – Theo Bongonda
DR Congo are chasing their first World Cup appearance in 48 years with their first and only showing being in the 1974 competition when they were known as Zaire.
The Belgium-born player is widely seen as the man to steer the side to the World Cup against Morocco who have been impressive in their qualifiers.
Despite the presence of top players like Chancel Mbemba, Bongonda is the new favourite of the side having switched nationality from Belgium to play for the country of his father.
The speedy player, who has scored ten goals for Genk in the Belgian top-flight this season, will add to the already strong attacking force of the Congolese.
Bongonda, a former youth international for Belgium, applied to switch allegiance and his talent will come in handy to help the Central African nation to outwit the Atlas Lions.
Egypt – Mohamed Salah
The eagerly-awaited rematch between AFCON finalists Senegal and Egypt requires big name players and Salah is certainly among the best in the world.
The Liverpool superstar is seeking to appease the teeming fans of the Pharaohs who are still reeling from the pain of losing the final to this week’s opponent just last month.
Salah has been one of the best players for his country over the past few years and his 28 goals in 36 appearances for Liverpool this season has made him a feared striker.
With ten assists at club level this term, Egypt are confident he will come up when most needed to help them edge Senegal and qualify.
Ghana – Thomas Partey
In the absence of suspended captain Andre Ayew, Partey replaced the Al Sadd playmaker as the most influential Black Stars players.
The Arsenal star has seen some revival in his fortunes with the English side who named their Player of the Month for February.
The former Atletico Madrid has scored ten goals in 27 appearances for the Black Stars demonstrating his importance for the four-time African champions.
Against their arch rivals Nigeria, the midfielder will have the freedom to join the attack which should be a headache for the Super Eagles.
Mali – Yves Bissouma
The return of Yves Bissouma to the Mali national team has injected some confidence among the players that they can defeat Tunisia to make their first appearance at the World Cup.
The England-based midfielder returned to the Eagles squad after a three-year absence to help steer them to the knock-out stages of the recent Africa Cup of Nations.
His presence in the defensive midfield of Mali completely transformed the squad, helping them to reach the knock-out stages for the first time in nine years.
The Brighton player’s ability to effortlessly spot his attackers while effectively disrupting the attack of the opponent will be a headache for Tunisia.
With many young g talented players in the squad, Bissouma and his team-mates provide a real threat to Tunisia’s quest to return to the global tournament.
Morocco – Achraf Hakimi
The Paris St Germain defender has not only been one of the outstanding players for the French sides, he has also been phenomenal for Morocco in their recent successes.
The right-back was the key player for the Atlas Lions in their recent international assignment when they reached the quarter-finals of last month’s AFCON in Cameroon.
Indeed, Hakimi has been influential for Morocco since 2016 when he started playing in the national team, culminating in 36 caps and seven goals.
Having played for some of the biggest clubs in the world including Real Madrid, where he trained as a child, Dortmund and Inter Milan before switching to PSG, Hakimi is certainly one of the key players DR Congo must stop.
Nigeria – Victor Osimhen
Moses Simon was the toast of the Super Eagles fans during the recent AFCON, but that place in the hearts of the fans will be taken by returning striker Osimhen.
The Italy-based attacker was absent when they reached the knock-out stage during the recent tournament in Cameroon, which gave the chance for Simon to demonstrate his capabilities to the admiration of the fans.
With the fit-again attacker part of the Super Eagles team to face Ghana, Osimhen will pose more problems for the Black Stars than the winger.
His 10 goals and six assists in his 19 matches show that the striker is the man to watch in the two-legged game against their arch-rivals.
Fifteen goals in all competitions for Napoli so far this season shows that his combination with Kelechi Iheanacho and Odion Ighlo in the Nigeria attack will be deadly.
Senegal – Sadio Mane
Liverpool star Mane is living one of the best moments of his football career having played a key role for his country to win their first AFCON title just last month.
He is desperate to add another chapter to his international football record by steering the Teranga Lions to defeat Egypt – the team they defeated in the final in Cameroon.
The diminutive striker scored three goals, made two assists in the seven matches Senegal played in Africa’s flagship competition.
His winning penalty helped them to defeat Egypt to seal the title and was named Player of the Tournament.
This shows he will be influential in their rematch with the Pharaohs despite the presence of other top players like Kalidou Koulibaly and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy in the Senegal squad.
Tunisia – Youssef Msakni
Even though a lot of focus has been on striker Wahbi Khazri, the main man of Tunisia has been long-standing striker Msakni who plays for Qatari top-flight Al Arabi.
He scored the only goal that eliminated highly-fancied Nigeria at the Round of 16 at the recent Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon demonstrating his importance to the team
His overall contribution makes him the feared player of the Carthage Eagles as his seven goals in 14 matches in Qatar show that he can also contribute goals to his midfield duties.
The 31-year-old, who is a left winger, is already the 19th highest scorer in the history of the AFCON and also on course to equal the record number of tournament appearances.
The record is held by Rigobert Song and Ahmed Hassan of Cameroon and Egypt respectively, after eight appearances from 1996 to 2010.
With seven appearances and at 31, he is likely to catch the record but first he will be keen on helping his country to defeat Mali and qualify for the World Cup.