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A Look Ahead to the Final Round of World Cup Qualifying

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Posted on May 12, 2013

With cruising in their campaign thus far, Hosam El-Aker previews the final round of Africa’s road to Brazil on his debut for King Fut.

With just three matches to go in the group phase of the African zone’s qualifiers for  , Egypt finds itself in the somewhat unfamiliar position of not just being “alive” in the quest to reach the finals, but actually in pole position. For the first time in years, supporters of the Pharaohs have had the luxury of keeping their calculators in their pockets.

No, Egypt hasn’t quite clinched a spot in the final round of qualifying – a home-and-away tussle with one last opponent for a trip to Brazil – but they could do so as early as June 9 when they take on Zimbabwe in Harare. Either way, they currently control their own destiny, but an away win next month (extremely difficult to achieve in Africa, granted) coupled with a Guinea loss or tie at home against Mozambique and the Pharaohs’ last two group matches become irrelevant. Or do they? That all depends on what the competition’s organizing committee decides to do with the final round of qualifying.

The format for the final phase is known. The ten winners from the group stage will be paired up to face one another home-and-away, with the five aggregate winners qualifying for Brazil 2014. What is unknown however is just how these 10 group winners will be paired. So far, FIFA has only told us that the procedure for this final round of qualifying “will be confirmed by the end of Round Two (group stage).” Considering the final group matches are in September, this means we technically might not know until then, though history tells us an announcement will probably come before that.

All sorts of conjecture has floated around cafes, websites, message boards and everywhere else African football is discussed as to what the exact procedure will be. One possibility is that the 10 teams will be drawn at random, with no attention paid to where they stand in FIFA’s monthly world rankings. Though the illogical is sometimes the norm in African football, this idea seems unlikely as it would risk pitting Africa’s highest ranked teams against one another. The region’s lowest ranked group winners could also end up being paired, guaranteeing that at least one of Africa’s highest ranked sides would fail to reach Brazil and that one or more of its lowest ranked teams would qualify; a less than ideal scenario.

The more likely modus operandi would see the 10 group winners placed into two pots of five, one with the highest ranked teams and the other with the lowest ranked teams. Each of the five matchups would include a team from each pot. This would guarantee that the five highest ranked group winners have a chance to comprise Africa’s five slots at the World Cup. In this scenario, FIFA would likely use its September rankings to determine the pots.

If this second proposed procedure is indeed chosen, it would render Egypt’s remaining group phase matches vitally important regardless of whether they’ve already clinched the group summit. This is because the results of those matches will play a significant role in where Egypt is ranked come September. If Egypt can end up among the five highest ranked group winners, their final round pairing would theoretically be easier, as it would be against one of the five lowest ranked group winners.

And now to the fun part. We obviously have no idea who will win the 10 groups or where those group winners will be ranked come September, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ponder the possibilities. It sure as heck beats what Egypt supporters are used to doing at this point… solving trigonomic equations to determine if the team is still even alive.

Going by the just-released May edition of the FIFA World Rankings, here’s what the pots would look like as things stand at the half-way mark in group play:

Pot 1 – , , , Tunisia, Zambia

Pot 2 – Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, Congo, Ethiopia

As of this moment, Egypt is well-entrenched in Pot 2. Even if Mali overtakes Algeria and Ghana overtakes Zambia in their respective groups, Egypt would remain in the lesser of the two pots. Perhaps Egypt’s shortest path to Pot 1 would be to jump 22 places in the FIFA World Ranking to leapfrog Zambia, who would have to hold on and win their group over Ghana. Egypt would also have to finish with a higher ranking than the Group I winner (most likely either Cameroon or Libya, both of whom are currently ranked just ahead of Egypt). This is virtually impossible, as Zambia holding on to win its group would mean that they’re getting results, and thus not plummeting down the rankings. And if Ghana wins the group, they’re too far ahead in the rankings for Egypt to catch up by September.

The other possibility – however unlikely it may seem – would be for Egypt (68th) to pass Cameroon (62nd) in the rankings (assuming they hold on to win Group I) and for Malawi (currently trailing Nigeria on goal difference) to win Group F. If Egypt wins its group, this scenario would place them 5th among group winners, putting them in Pot 1.

Given these realities, it’s safe to assume that should Egypt win its group, it’s all but certain that they’ll end up in Pot 2. If the current group leaders hold on to first place, this would mean Egypt has a 40% chance of renewing pleasantries with one of its North African rivals – Algeria or Tunisia – as both are in Pot 1. And if they don’t draw one of their northern neighbors, top-ranked Ivory Coast, African champions Nigeria, and Zambia – who gave Egypt fits in a 2010 World Cup qualifier in Cairo – would be waiting in the wings. If it’s none of those five teams, it would likely be either Mali or Ghana. None of the possibilities are too appealing.

So, anyone holding out hope that Egypt might face an “easier” (i.e. lower ranked) proposition like Ethiopia – currently leading Group A – can stop dreaming right about… now. Given Egypt’s history of selective complacency, perhaps it’ll be beneficial facing a bigger name anyway. The Pharaohs have a knack for surprising with poor performances against presumably weaker teams, and surprisingly stellar performances against stronger sides.

No matter how you slice the makarona bel bashamel, qualifying for the World Cup will take Egypt’s top effort, regardless of the opponent. There are very few minnows left in African football, and for whoever the 10 group winners end up being, there will have been a reason for it… they’re good teams.

Should Egypt win Group G, which of their seven most likely opponents (Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Algeria, Tunisia, Zambia, Ghana, Mali) would you rather face in the final round of qualifying and why? Let us know in the comments section below.

Follow @King_Fut on Twitter and Facebook for the latest on Egyptian football.

19 Comments

  1. sherif

    May 12, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    i want algeria ya rab isa

    • Jabril

      June 9, 2013 at 1:29 PM

      why?

  2. dada

    May 12, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    Nigeria would be fun.

  3. Amo

    May 12, 2013 at 8:32 PM

    Algeria please. Away then home.

    • Jabril

      June 9, 2013 at 1:30 PM

      YES YOU ARE RIGHT ID RATHER BEAT EGYPT AWAY FIRST THAN HOME MASHALLAH BROTHER GOOD ANAYSIS

  4. manchester masri

    May 13, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    I would like Algeria which would be played at home first with the second leg away. This is because they would be the higher ranked team. They don’t have the same vile personalities in their team as before and I think we could do well against them, would be so sweet to celebrate in their stadium just like the youth players did not long ago.

    • SIMO (@hasasimo)

      May 13, 2013 at 12:05 PM

      You bring up a solid point about the order of the two legs. With it more than likely that Egypt ends up in Pot 2, we’ll probably have to play the second leg on the road.

      • RocknBall

        May 14, 2013 at 5:29 PM

        great analysis

  5. SIMO (@hasasimo)

    May 14, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    Aashek is that you? I hope you’re well. Thank you!

  6. Ahmad Hossainy

    June 7, 2013 at 10:49 PM

    nice article Hossam, I just posted a comment yesterday on Filagoal.com (arabic version) about this subject very similar to your article,

    I was trying to explain how is FIFA ranking works, and how it isn’t important that we are 71st on FIFA ranking and the 15th on CAF region .. but the most important is that we are (right now) the 7th among the 10 possible group winners

    it seems like many people aren’t aware of that rather than many of them think that the group stage is the final stage and so we are 3 points away from qualification to Brasil 2014 .. sadly some of them are players like Shehab Ahmad who I read a statement for him 2 days ago saying that : “Egypt is very close from qualification to world cup, we have 9 points, 5 points above our rival Guinea” !

    I’m a reader and a big fan of your website and a follower of yours on twitter, and honestly you are one of the best websites about Egyptian football .. you really know what are you talking about, so I want to ask you a favour :
    could you make an Arabic version of your website .. they are many websites, TV programs, newspaper who have no idea about football and yet they have thousands of fans

    The bitter fact is that Egyptians (and Arabs) are too lazy to read in Arabic, rather than English .. although being an English website makes me feel that it’s a kind of an exclusive club 😉

    Thank you.

    • SIMO (@hasasimo)

      June 8, 2013 at 1:23 PM

      Many thanks for the reply and the compliment. Your point about people who should know better being clueless is well founded. What you said reminds me of ART & Al Jazeera pundits in 2009… they were so sure that Egypt just had to beat Algeria 2-0 in Cairo to get to the World Cup. This was just after we beat Zambia. They kept saying we’d advance on “away goals.” If they just took the time to go to FIFA’s website and read the regulations they would know that away goals did not apply to tie-breakers in a round-robin.

      No official word yet on procedures for the playoff round, but recall that FIFA seeded teams for the playoff round in Europe in 2010, so it would stand to reason they do the same in Africa.

  7. Jabril

    June 9, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    yhall ugly slimani top scorer in africa ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

    • Mohammed

      June 11, 2013 at 8:48 AM

      yes but he played more matches than abourika and salah

  8. Shehab

    June 9, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    With regards to the seeding of the teams, according to the rules, the SECOND round, in which we’re currently competing, was based on the FIFA Coca-Cola ranking. However, since they didn’t mention the same for the THIRD round, I have my doubts the same ranking would be used.

    “The ten group winners from Round 2 will contest Round 3. The teams will be paired into five home-and-away ties. The matches will likely be played between 11-15 October and 15-19 November 2013. The five teams that win their respective ties will qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup”

  9. Alex

    June 27, 2013 at 9:12 PM

    If the final qualification stage for the world cup for Africa is based on the FIFA ranking, then it is possible that the team with the highest ranking could play against the team with the lowest.

    If that’s the case it will look like this, now granted these teams selected actually qualify for the final stage with the exception to whether Libya or Cameroon qualify. I also think Senegal and Nigeria will win their last game at home.

    If Ghana wins then.

    (1) Ivory Coast vs (10) Ethiopia
    (2) Ghana vs (9) Senegal
    (3) Nigeria vs (8) Congo
    (4) Algeria vs (7) Egypt
    (5) Tunisia vs (6) Cameroon

    If Zambia wins then

    (1) Ivory Coast vs (10) Ethiopia
    (2) Nigeria vs (9) Senegal
    (3) Algeria vs (8) Congo
    (4) Tunisia vs (7) Egypt
    (5) Zambia vs (6) Cameroon

    I know some changes could occur in FIFA ranking like Egypt finishing ahead of Cameroon and also Burkina Faso could win their group instead of Congo.
    Still I could easily see this as being final stage.

    So Egypt could play Algeria, Tunisia, or Zambia, which is probably better than Ivory Coast or Nigeria.

    How do you guys feel about top ranked team vs lowest ranked? Does it seem fair?

    • Hosam El-Aker

      June 27, 2013 at 9:20 PM

      I prefer a draw personally just because I think the rankings themselves are bogus. I’ve disagreed with FIFA’s ranking format for a long time. The ELO rankings seem more reasonable. Anyhow, it will definitely be a draw based on seedings, that’s been confirm, so there’s no telling what the matchups will be. Only thing we have a good idea of is who the seeded and unseeded teams will be.

  10. Alex

    June 27, 2013 at 10:02 PM

    Thanks Hosam for an excellent article and reply. I do agree with you about the FIFA ranking, how can Brazil not be in top 20 teams for example. Still I highly doubt that they would use another ranking system for a FIFA event (World Cup). Whatever the outcome is I hope that Africa will have strong teams representing the continent, we only have 5 spots. So it better not be just the luck of the draw. Would you please explain what you mean by seeding? Is it seeding according to the current groups with whoever finishes with most points, goals difference? Or is it something else? You said it’s been confirmed.

    • Alex

      June 28, 2013 at 12:24 AM

      The African draw will be made on 16 September 2013 in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) headquarters in Cairo. The group winners of the second qualifying round will discover their rivals for one of the continent’s five berths at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The five best-placed sides in the 12 September 2013 edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking will be seeded for the draw.

      http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/newsid=2109736/index.html

  11. Aly El Hefnawy

    September 10, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    I wish egypt would win and qualify to the world cup

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