Liverpool’s prolific goalscorer and Egypt captain Mohamed Salah will be among the stars of the action this week as the 2026 World Cup qualifiers kick off in Africa with two match days.
His two Premier League goals against Brentford at the weekend took his tally to 200 in English football, and he is now set to face Group A rivals Djibouti and Sierra Leone.
Salah was the second-highest African in the Ballon d’Or last month behind Napoli and Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen, who will miss the first few days of matches due to injury.
Eintracht Frankfurt’s Omar Marmoush and Nantes’ Mostafa Mohamed are other Egyptians who have scored regularly in Europe’s top leagues this season.
Djibouti, who face Egypt in Cairo on Thursday, are among Africa’s weakest national teams and have twice conceded eight goals in World Cup qualifiers.
Sierra Leone will be at a disadvantage when they have to play a home game against Egypt on Sunday in Liberia because they do not have an international standard stadium.
Egypt won the African Cup of Nations seven times, but struggled in the World Cup qualifiers, reaching the finals only three times, compared to eight appearances by Cameroon.
The strongest challenge for Salah and his teammates could come from Burkina Faso, who are ranked 10th in Africa, five places below Egypt. Guinea Bissau and Ethiopia are the other competitors in Group A.
Nigeria will have to do without Osimhen, one of the favorites to win the CAF Footballer of the Year award next month, and injured AC Milan winger Samuel Chukwueze against Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
But Portugal coach Jose Peseiro has plenty of talented substitutes to choose from, including Bayer Leverkusen’s Victor Boniface and Nottingham Forest’s Taiwo Awoniyi.
However, there are concerns about the Super Eagles’ defense with Cyprus goalkeeper Francis Uzoho coming under fire for his performances in two recent friendlies.
Zimbabwe is back in international football after FIFA’s ban on government interference prevented them from competing in the 2024 Cup of Nations.
They are among 17 African countries unable to play at home due to substandard stadiums or safety concerns and will host Nigeria in the Rwandan city of Butare.
South Africa are considered Nigeria’s biggest threats in Group C, but they will face Benin at home and Rwanda away minus star Lyle Foster.
The Burnley forward and South Africa’s only Premier League side has been sidelined due to a reoccurring mental health issue.
Former Premier League manager Chris Hughton admits he is under pressure as Ghana coach ahead of qualifiers at home to Madagascar and away to Comoros.
“They are two games we have to do well in,” he said amid media calls for his sacking after the United States conceded four goals last month.
Veteran Andre ‘Dede’ Ayew, who joined Ligue 1 outfit Le Havre last weekend, has been recalled, but injury rules out another midfielder, Arsenal’s Thomas Partey.
Last December in Qatar, Morocco reached their first African World Cup semi-final, but they will not be involved in game one as opponents Eritrea withdrew without explanation.
So Saudi-based goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, Paris Saint-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi and Sevilla forward Youssef en-Nesyri will only be in action for the Atlas Lions next Tuesday.
Their late entry into the qualifiers will be away to Tanzania in Group E, which also includes a resurgent Zambia, Congo Brazzaville and Niger, who are set to hire Morocco coach Badou Zaki.
The nine group winners after 260 qualifiers that run until October 2025 qualify for the biggest ever finals in the 48 nations of the United States, Canada and Mexico.
There could be a 10th qualifier in Africa as the top four runners-up will enter a mini-championship with the winners progressing to the intercontinental play-offs with two places up for grabs in the final.
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