We’re less than a year removed from the 2018 World Cup. But the qualifying cycle starts fairly early, which means it won’t be much longer before the next World Cup – in Qatar in 2022 – becomes relevant. So, just as Capital recently explored the four berths up for grabs in Africa for the U-20 World Cup later this year, here we’ll take a much more preliminary look at some of the teams to watch for once CAF qualifying for 2022 is underway.
For starters we should clarify that there’s plenty of guesswork here. We don’t even know for certain that the Qatar 2022 field won’t be expanded from 32 to 48 teams – let alone how many slots there will be for African teams. Keep an eye on news coming out of FIFA for further information in these areas. Additionally, we can’t speak to defined, official favorites before qualifying even starts. For that, a whole category of sites and resources for football tips and betting lines exists in the UK and Europe. Those sites and resources will undoubtedly be publishing pure odds and even guides on favorites and different qualifying regions as soon as the action is underway.
Here, we’re simply basing the conversation on the qualifying process for 2018 (for which there were five slots for African teams) and our knowledge of how the noteworthy teams should advance toward 2022.
Ethiopia – We’ll mention Ethiopia as a long shot candidate simply because this team would typically be our focus. Ethiopia won’t have good odds to advance through CAF qualifying, but acquitted itself fairly well in the 2018 process, losing out in the second round in a 4-6 aggregate to Congo. It’s not one of the stronger sides in Africa, but it’s one capable of making a surprise run – particularly if the field expands to 48.
Uganda – Uganda pulled off one of the forgotten surprises of CAF qualifying for 2018, finishing ahead of Ghana in Group E (but still falling behind group winner and eventual qualifier Egypt). “The Cranes,” as this national team is called, have played well of late, most notably in the Africa Cup Of Nations, and may be a team on the rise.
Mali – This is perhaps the main long shot to keep an eye on. Mali finished last in its group in 2018 CAF qualifying, but is thought of as a tricky team with legitimate potential. Defensive standouts Diadie Samassékou (Bundesliga) and Hamari Traoré (Ligue 1), as well as forward Moussa Marega (Liga NOS) bring big league experience and will all be in their primes come qualifying. Interestingly enough, one football writer simulated the 2022 World Cup on Football Manager already, and found Mali in the field.
Morocco – Morocco made it into the 2018 event and will have a chance to repeat the feat in 2022. This was a polarizing team in that some dismissed it as a happy-to-be-there participant and others saw it as a potentially tough out. We have to remember that 2018 marked Morocco’s first Cup berth in 20 years, so perhaps two in a row is a lot to ask. But manager Hervé Renard seems to be able to get a lot out of his roster.
Ivory Coast – Ivory Coast is one of the relative powers that missed out on 2018 unexpectedly – not quite on the same tier as the likes of Italy or the Netherlands (both of which also missed out), but still a surprising absence. This is representative of a legitimate downturn in Ivory Coast football in recent years, though the team has a chance to right the ship in this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations. The Ivory Coast squad still boasts young, top-level talent on defense and across its midfield, but may struggle scoring at the highest level.
DR Congo – Of all of the teams that fell short in CAF qualifying for 2018, DR Congo was the closest to securing a World Cup berth. The team finished just a point behind Tunisia in Group A. Some of the team’s standout players will be getting a little old for 2022, but the striker duo of Firmin Mobile and Kabongo Kasongo have a lot of good football ahead of them (and already contributed to this team scoring the most goals in Group A before 2018).
Cameroon – Cameroon falls somewhat in line with Ivory Coast in that it’s traditionally among Africa’s top teams, but has struggled more recently. It frankly just isn’t as strong a team as it’s been at times, but it’s a fairly young bunch full of players in their low- to mid-20s, and André Onana has a chance to become the best goalkeeper in Africa, which should give Cameroon a chance in a lengthy qualifying process.
Nigeria – Nigeria was viewed by most as the strongest African side in 2018, and could well be in a similar position in 2020. They have some players aging out, but some exciting young talent swelling the ranks. Perhaps more than any other team here, it would be surprising if Nigeria didn’t qualify, and the Nigerians may also have the best chance of making a deep run.
Senegal – Senegal was present in Russia in 2018, and had perhaps the most heartbreaking exit of any team in the group stage. Despite tying with Japan in every meaningful sense, they were eliminated via the “fair play” tiebreaker, prompting the country to appeal to FIFA to revise the rule. That ought to leave Senegal about as motivated as any African side to qualify and perform well, and the team should have the talent to do it. A few of the team’s standouts will be on the wrong side of 30 by 2022, but superstar winger Said Mané should be at the absolute peak of his powers, as should top goalscoring threat M’Baye Niang.
Egypt – Egypt was a disappointment in 2018, and frankly star striker Mohamed Salah was uninspired after his blistering EPL and Champions League campaigns heading into Cup action. It might have left a bad taste in your mouth, but Salah should be hungry to do better, the team is mostly young with potential to improve, and Egypt breezed through qualifying for 2018. It doesn’t look like as strong a side as Nigeria or Senegal, but it still looks likely to qualify.
Ghana – Ghana fell well short of expectations in 2018 qualifying, finishing, as mentioned, behind Uganda in Group E. It’s a little bit confounding on the surface, though Ghana did draw with Egypt, and its plus-2 goal differential topped Uganda’s plus-one. A lot will depend on how 22-year-old Emmanuel Boateng evolves as a scorer in the next few years, as well as whether or not Jordan Ayew’s best football is in front of him. But Ghana can certainly have a better finish in 2022 qualifying without any major changes.