Fancy a flutter on which five countries will represent Africa at the 2018 World Cup?
Choose Tunisia, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and Egypt. All are group leaders with two rounds to come, except the Senegalese, who trail Burkina Faso and Cape Verde by a single point.
Group B pacesetters Nigeria are the best positioned to succeed as a home victory over Zambia in Uyo on October 7 will ensure qualification for the global football showcase.
Here, MONTHATI MOTAUNG looks ahead to the October and November rounds of a qualifying competition in which 15 of the 20 participants still have a chance of reaching Russia.
Tunisia visit Guinea next month and host Libya in November needing four points from a possible six to seal a fifth World Cup appearance and a first since 2006. Guinea boast a number of talented footballers, including midfielder and recent Liverpool signing Naby Keita, and should be much the tougher of the two tasks. However, after two goals in three minutes salvaged a 2-2 draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo in hostile Kinshasa, Tunisia must be confident of remaining first.
Qualification rests between Nigeria and Zambia with African champions Cameroon and Algeria eliminated despite having two fixtures to fulfil. The John Obi Mikel-captained “Super Eagles” will be favoured to beat the “Chipolopolo” (Copper Bullets) at home after both sides impressed during back-to-back qualifiers. Nigeria were awesome when thrashing Cameroon 4-0 at home while Zambia completed a “double” over Algeria with the 1-0 away victory particular
Should erratic Ivory Coast make it to Russia, they must send a box of the finest French champagne to the Mali squad. Mali held Morocco 0-0 in Bamako four days after conceding six in Rabat, stopping the Herve Renardcoached north Africans overtaking an Ivorian outfit shocked 2-1 at home by Gabon. Ivory Coast hold a one-point advantage ahead of a visit to Mali next month, and host Morocco during November in a match likely to decide who wins the mini league.
With only two points dividing co-leaders Burkina Faso and Cape Verde from bottom side South Africa, there is all to play for in the new “group of death”. The Burkinabe came close to reaching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with the woodwork depriving them of an equaliser in Algeria in a play-off they lost on away goals. Stuart Baxter-coached South Africa are set to miss out after two shock losses to Cape Verde, but could decide who wins the group as they host Burkina Faso and visit Senegal
Following so many near misses in World Cup qualifying, Egypt are two victories away from returning to the tournament after a 28-year absence. An ongoing African football mystery is how a team that has won the Cup of Nations a record seven times can repeatedly flop in World Cup elimination competitions. The Mohamed Salah-inspired “Pharaohs” will surely beat Congo Brazzaville at home before a potentially tricky trip to Ghana, where they were humiliated 6-1 in a 2014 play-off.
At Kinshasa: DR Congo 2 (Mbemba 9, Mpoku 47) Tunisia 2 (Moke 77-own goal, Badri 79)
At Monastir, Tunisia: Libya 1 (Mohamed 36) Guinea 0; match switched Libya for security reasons
Contenders: Tunisia, DR Congo
Eliminated: Guinea, Libya
October 7: Guinea v Tunisia, Libya v DR Congo
At Constantine, Algeria: Algeria 0 Zambia 1 (Daka 66)
At Yaounde: Cameroon 1 (Aboubakar 75-pen) Nigeria 1 (Simon 30)
Contenders: Nigeria, Zambia
Eliminated: Cameroon, Algeria
October 7: Cameroon v Algeria, Nigeria v Zambia
At Bouake, I Coast: I Coast 1 (Cornet 56) Gabon 2 (Meye 19, Lemina 28)
At Bamako: Mali 0 Morocco 0
Contenders: Ivory Coast, Morocco, Gabon, Mali
October 6: Mali v Ivory Coast
October 7: Morocco v Gabon
At Ouagadougou: Burkina Faso 2 (B. Traore 9, N’Diaye 89-own goal) Senegal 2 (Sarr 27, Mane 75)
At Durban, South Africa: South Africa 1 (Jali 89) Cape Verde 2 (Rodrigues 52, 67)
Contenders: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Senegal, South Africa
October 7: Cape Verde v Senegal, South Africa v Burkina Faso
At Alexandria, Egypt: Egypt 1 (Salah 6) Uganda 0
At Brazzaville: Congo Brazzaville 1 (Illoy-Ayyet 43) Ghana 5 (Boakye 23, 85, Partey 26, 45+2, 69)
Contenders: Egypt, Uganda, Ghana
Eliminated: Congo Brazzaville
October 7: Uganda v Ghana
October 8: Egypt v Congo
Note: Group winners qualify for World Cup in Russia