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To Russia, the hard way
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 28 - 07 - 2015

African sides have learned who they will face after the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw was held Saturday in St Petersburg, Russia.
Fifty-three African countries were in the draw, with only Zimbabwe missing following their expulsion by FIFA for failing to pay a former coach.
Africa has been allocated five spots in the finals, which will be played in Russia from 14 June to 15 July. There will be three rounds of qualifying for the African sides.
Round one features the lowest 26 ranked countries on the continent in FIFA's July rankings. The winners of those ties advance to round two where they will join the remaining 27 highest-ranked teams.
In the final round, five groups of four teams will meet both home and away and the winner of each group will qualify for Russia 2018.
First round:
Thirteen two-legged ties, played home and away, between
5-13 October 2015:
Somalia x Niger
South Sudan x Mauritania
Gambia x Namibia
Sao Tome e Principe x Ethiopia
Chad x Sierra Leone
Comoros x Lesotho
Djibouti x Swaziland
Eritrea x Botswana
Seychelles x Burundi
Liberia x Guinea Bissau
Mauritius x Kenya
Tanzania x Malawi
Central African Republic x Madagascar
Second Round:
The winners of the first round, plus 27 highest-ranked teams in Africa. All 40 teams paired into 20 ties, play home and away, between 9-17 November 2015:
Somalia/Niger x Cameroon
South Sudan/Mauritania x Tunisia
Gambia/Namibia v Guinea
Sao Tome e Principe/ Ethiopia x Congo Brazzaville
Chad/Sierra Leone x Egypt
Comoros/Lesotho x Ghana
Djibouti/Swaziland x Nigeria
Eritrea/Botswana x Mali
Seychelles/Burundi x DR Congo
Liberia/Guinea Bissau x Ivory Coast
Central African Republic/Madagascar x Senegal
Mauritius/Kenya x Cape Verde Islands
Tanzania/Malawi x Algeria
Sudan x Zambia
Libya x Rwanda
Morocco x Equatorial Guinea
Mozambique x Gabon
Benin x Burkina Faso
Togo x Uganda
Angola x South Africa
Third round:
Twenty winners of the second round will form five groups of four teams who will meet both home and away. Matches are to be played between 3 October 2016 and 14 November 2017. The five group winners qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
After fulfilling his duties as a draw assistant at Saturday's preliminary draw, Cameroonian goal scoring legend Samuel Eto'o gave FIFA.com his view on what to expect in the African zone, where the first round of the qualifying competition begins on 5 October.
“The gap between the strongest teams and the less-fancied ones has closed a lot. In fact, there's hardly a gap to speak of anymore,” said Eto'o. “I remember going into matches 10 or 15 years ago thinking: ‘There's such a big difference between us that we're bound to win'. But these days you're thinking: ‘This team is going to make life hard for us', which is great for Africa as a whole.”


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