2019 AFCON Qualifiers: African Underdogs Aim To Upset Odds Again
The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia may already be in the rear-view mirror, but it is likely still playing on the minds of the five African teams that failed to advance to the knockout stages.
In order to put their disappointment behind them definitively, they have set themselves the objective of shining on the continental scene and qualifying for the 2019 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, due to be held in Cameroon.
That is easier said than done, however. And while, after two matchdays, Senegal and Tunisia sit in first place in their respective groups, several sections are currently topped by surprise packages not generally accustomed to success. FIFA.com takes a look at these unexpected leaders ahead of the third and fourth round of fixtures, scheduled to take place between 10 and 16 October.
The key double-headers
Ethiopia-Kenya: In a Group F that has seen all four teams win a match and lose one, Kenya are hopeful of giving themselves a decent chance of qualifying. Their doubleheader against Ethiopia crowned African champions in 1962 but in the doldrums for years, could enable the Harambee Stars to take a giant step towards booking a spot at the Cup of Nations for the first time since 2004. However, Sebastien Migne's men have not enjoyed the smoothest of preparations, with complications besetting their plans for a training camp in Nairobi and their journey to Bahir Dar in Ethiopia.
Zambia-Guinea-Bissau: When Guinea-Bissau qualified for the 2017 Cup of Nations, it was widely viewed as something of a miracle, but two years later, their results suggest that it may instead have signalled the emergence of a golden generation. After two matches, the Djurtus sit proudly atop Group K, and have high hopes of remaining there following their home-and-away series of matches with Zambia. Over the last few years, the Zambians have struggled to return to the heady heights of 2012, when they lifted the trophy; indeed, having been eliminated at the group stage in 2013 and 2015, they missed out on the tournament altogether in 2017.
Angola-Mauritania: Having picked up six points from their first two fixtures, Mauritania has emerged as the team to beat in Group I. Les Mourabitounes' doubleheader with Angola, who appeared at the 2006 World Cup but have missed the last two Cup of Nations contests, should go a long way to clarifying the fate of a team that has made continuous progress since the arrival of former France international Corentin Martins at the helm in 2014.
Nigeria-Libya: Few observers would have predicted that, ahead of their crucial October duels, Libya would be leading Group E and Nigeria would be sitting third. The Mediterranean Knights are coming off the back of a well-earned draw in South Africa, while the Super Eagles will be anxious to bounce back from a discouraging 2018 World Cup and a defeat at home by the Bafana Bafana in their opening qualifier for Cameroon 2019.
Uganda-Lesotho: After a solid start in this qualifying campaign, Uganda are well-placed to cement their position at the top and move closer to the Cup of Nations proper via their upcoming matches with Lesotho, who presently occupy the 145th place in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, 62 spots below the Cranes.
Congo DR-Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe are the early pace-setters in Group G, but Congo DR, who lie second on goal difference, are in hot pursuit. The Warriors are likely to have their hands full in their two games with Les LÃ©opards, whose squad features, as per usual, a core of players from TP Mazembe, as well as a handful of performers boasting experience of major European leagues.
Debuts, returns and absences Javier Aguirre's Egypt will take on Swaziland without Ramadan Sobhi, but with Mohamed Salah. Nicolas Tie and Ibrahim Sangare have been called up to the CÃ´te d'Ivoire squad for the first time for their two matches against Central African Republic. Wilfried Zaha returns for Les Ã‰lÃ©phants, while Gervinho misses out through injury. Amadou Diawara (Napoli) has received a maiden call-up to the Guinea squad, and he could find himself playing in midfield alongside Liverpool's Naby Keita against Rwanda. Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan, who was sidelined with an injury last month, returns to face Sierra Leone. Goalkeeper Felix Annan, the only player plying his trade in the Ghanaian League, has been included in a national squad for the first time. However, there is still no recall for Ayew brothers Andre and Jordan.
What they said 'We didn't achieve our objective at the World Cup, which was to reach the quarter-finals. But we haven't got time to cry over spilt milk, and we've managed to move on. Now the 2019 Cup of Nations in Cameroon is on the horizon. That must be our major objective now.' Senegal forward Keita Balde.