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Road to World Cup 2018 comes into clearer focus
The qualifying format in Africa for the 2018 FIFA World Cup appears to be a little clearer following FIFA’s release of its Statistical Kit for the Preliminary Draw.
As first reported by the Football Rankings blog, African football governing body CAF appears to have settled on a three-round format, as opposed to the four rounds it originally declared.
Round 1 will comprise the 26 lowest-ranked teams in Africa playing a home-and-away playoff.
Round 2 will pit the 13 winners from Round 1 with the top 27 ranked teams on the continent, for a total of 40, which will contest another home-and-away playoff.
In Round 3, those 20 teams will be divided into five groups of four teams each. They’ll play a double round-robin with only the group winners advancing to the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia.
The format is expected to be confirmed by CAF as official in the coming weeks.
The draw for the preliminary round will be made on July 25. It is unclear whether or not the Round 2 draw will also be made at that time.
Assuming the July 2015 FIFA World Rankings are used to comprise the pots for the first two rounds, they would look as follows:
Round 1 Pots
Pot 1: Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Kenya, Madagascar, Botswana, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Swaziland, Burundi
Pot 2: Tanzania, Gambia, Liberia, Central African Republic, Chad, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sao Tome e Principe, Comoros, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti
Round 2 Pots
Pot 1: Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, Congo, Cape Verde Islands, Egypt, Nigeria, Guinea, Congo DR, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda
Pot 2: Togo, Morocco, Sudan, Mozambique, Libya, Niger, Benin, and 13 winners from Round 1
Round 1 is scheduled to get underway in October.
Bottom line for Egypt
Egypt is firmly entrenched in Pot 1 of Round 2. This means it won’t have to participate in the first round of qualifiers. However, it does face the prospect of having to contend with one of Africa’s top five sides if it makes it through to the group stage. Currently ninth in Africa, the Pharaohs would have to climb four spots over the next year-plus, before the teams are reseeded for the group stage (Round 3).
Making it to the group stage is no guarantee either. An unlucky draw could see any of the top African sides (including Egypt) facing the likes of Morocco or Togo in the home-and-away Round 2 playoff. Ethiopia, Libya, Angola, and Sudan would also be possible Round 2 opponents.
Should Egypt successfully leap past its Round 2 hurdle, it would need consistently positive results in both official matches and friendlies to stand any chance of being seeded for the group stage.
Egypt’s next official match is a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Chad in September.
The Pharaohs haven’t qualified for the FIFA World Cup since 1990.