Nigeria’s players have been promised another “handsome reward” by a politician if they qualify for the World Cup this weekend after sharing $50,000 for the two games against African champion Cameroon last month.
Egypt coach Hector Cuper will just be happy if his blood pressure goes down after revealing he’s taking medication to deal with the stress of World Cup qualifying.
Nigeria and Egypt are two of three teams that can qualify in the penultimate round of qualifiers this weekend. Tunisia can, too, as a tight race in Africa approaches its climax. Only the five group winners will reach Russia and no team has sealed its place yet.
Tunisia will return to the World Cup for the first time since 2006 if it gets a better result in Guinea than Congo does against Libya. In a twist, while Tunisia travels to play the Guineans in Conakry, Congo plays Libya in neutral Tunisia because Libya can’t host matches for security reasons. That means the Congolese will likely face a Tunisian crowd baying for them to lose in Monastir. If Tunisia can’t better Congo’s result, the group goes down to the final round next month, and keeps alive Congo’s hopes of a first World Cup appearance since its one and only trip in 1974, when it was known as Zaire. Guinea and Libya have been eliminated.
Nigeria will qualify if it beats Zambia on Saturday in the city of Uyo, where Akwa Ibom state governor Udom Emmanuel promised the reward for the players. Emmanuel has already paid out $50,000 to the players, the Nigeria Football Federation said, after pledging $10,000 for each goal in their two matches against Cameroon last month. Nigeria won the first game 4-0 and the second was a 1-1 draw, eliminating Cameroon.
Following his generosity, the Nigerian federation called Emmanuel a “great host.”
Zambia, three points behind leader Nigeria, is the only other team in the group that’s able to qualify. While Nigeria has missed just one World Cup since 1994, Zambia has never qualified despite a strong record in African competition.
“I do not believe another four-goal victory is a realistic expectation,” Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr said. “Winning by one or two goals will do fine.”
It’s tight in Group C, where Ivory Coast leads by a point from Morocco but has found it tough. Ivory Coast’s home loss to Gabon last month means no team can qualify this weekend and the group will go down to the last games.
The challenge for new Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots has been complicated by a serious injury list: Gervinho, Seydou Doumbia, Jean-Michael Seri, Adama Traore, Max Gradel and Wilfried Zaha are all out of the away game against Mali, and striker Wilfried Bony is a doubt. All four teams can still qualify, meaning Gabon and even bottom-placed Mali still have a chance at a World Cup debut.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is back in Gabon’s squad for the game in Morocco after missing the back-to-back games against Ivory Coast.
Group D has been upended by FIFA’s unprecedented decision to order last year’s qualifier between South Africa and Senegal — which host South Africa won 2-1 — to be replayed after the referee was found guilty of match manipulation. That game will be played again on Nov. 10, and Senegal’s final qualifier, at home to South Africa, has been pushed back to Nov. 14. Burkina Faso, tied at the top of the group with Cape Verde, has appealed FIFA’s decision to give Senegal a second chance in that qualifier. It could ultimately cost Burkina Faso a place at the World Cup for the first time in its history. This weekend, Burkina Faso travels to South Africa and Cape Verde hosts Senegal.
Hector Cuper has opened up about the stress he’s feeling trying to coach Egypt to its first World Cup since 1990. Egypt is the record seven-time African champion and won four out of seven continental championships from 1998 to 2010, but hasn’t transferred that success to World Cup qualifying. Cuper said he’s on medication for high blood pressure.
“I am taking hypertension medicine due to the stress I suffer from the continuing criticism,” said Cuper, who’s coached in the top leagues in Spain, Italy and Argentina. “Life is full of stress, but the challenge of reaching the World Cup is the toughest stress I have faced.”
Egypt can qualify, and provide relief for Cuper, if Uganda fails to beat Ghana on Saturday and Egypt beats Republic of Congo at home on Sunday.