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RUSSIA IS LEAST RANKED AT ITS OWN WORLD CUP

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For the first time since the FIFA ranking began in 1993, the host nation for the World Cup will be the least ranked.

The highest ranked country among the 32 jostling for the World Cup is Germany at the topmost position.

Russia at number 65 will be the worst ranked team when it hosts the World Cup next summer, marking the first time in history when the host nation has the lowest ranking of all the tournament participants.

Russia qualified automatically and even heads Pot 1 which harbours the seven highest ranked countries, including the number one, Germany.

The next lowest ranked teams are Saudi Arabia in 63rd, South Korea in 62nd, first-time World Cup participant Panama in 49th and Morocco in 48th.

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As hosts, Russia was automatically placed into the first seeding pot for the draw, which takes place on December 1. The first pot is reserved for the highest-ranked participants, including Germany which holds top spot and Brazil in second place.

If the World Cup was not held in Russia, the country’s team would be in the fourth seeding pot among the weakest teams.

The qualification for the international tournament wrapped up on November 16, with Peru becoming the last team to make the 32 finalists that will compete in Russia when it hosts the World Cup from June 14 to July 15 next year.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Exclusive: Rohr names his squad to face Super Eagles in World Cup qualifiers

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Gernot Rohr, Benin Repuyblic coach

Former Nigeria manager now working for the opposition, Gernot Rohr has named his Benin Republic team to face Super Eagles on 10th June.

In the squad are 19 professionals playing at various clubs in Europe and six home based players drawn from local league.

Rohr said at a press conference that he was confident the boys will beat the Super Eagles. The team is expected to leave Cotonou for Abidjan on Monday and train on the same pitch where they will face the Super Eagles.

The Super Eagles played some of their matches at the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Stadium during the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year.

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Why serial violators, Equatorial Guinea forfeit World Cup qualifiers

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Fire Brand Afcon Sharp Shooter, Nsue Set Equatorial Guinea FA Ablaze -

Equatorial Guinea have had to forfeit their first two 2026 World Cup qualifiers after a FIFA Disciplinary Committee ruled that former Spain junior international Emilio Nsue was ineligible to play in both matches.

The 34-year-old scored the winning goal in both of those games, against Namibia and Liberia, last November.

Nsue, who finished as the leading scorer at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cote d’Ivoire earlier this year, has also been banned for six months from international football, FIFA confirmed in a statement on Friday, though they did not shed light on the specific reasons for his ineligibility.

It is a repeat case after Equatorial Guinea also had to forfeit two matches in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers for fielding Nsue. No reason for his ineligibility was given by FIFA on that occasion either

But curiously, he did play in the qualifiers for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals.

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FIFA did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Equatorial Guinea beat both Liberia and Namibia 1-0 in their first two qualifiers for 2026, but those will now be awarded as 3-0 losses.

“After considering all elements brought before it, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee was comfortably satisfied that the player was ineligible and consequently decided to declare the matches of the FIFA World Cup 2026 preliminary competition in which the player was fielded lost by forfeit by Equatorial Guinea,” the FIFA statement said.

Nsue scored five goals at the recent Cup of Nations to take home the Golden Boot but missed a vital penalty in the round of 16 loss to Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea will travel to Tunisia for their next qualifier on June 5, before they host Malawi five days later.

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They are six points behind leaders Tunisia and Namibia in the six-team pool with only the top side in the group gaining automatic qualification for the finals in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

-Reuters

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African champions Cote d’Ivoire unleash new blood for World Cup qualifiers

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Cote d’Ivoire coach Emerse Faé has overhauled his squad for next month’s crucial 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Gabon and Kenya, handing call-ups to five new faces including a trio of players from Ligue 1.

The Elephants, who top Group F alongside Gabon on six points, host the Panthers in Korhogo on 7 June before an away trip to Nairobi to take on the Harambee Stars four days later.

With qualification for the finals in the USA, Canada and Mexico well-poised, Faé has taken the opportunity to inject fresh blood into his ranks following the side’s TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations triumph in February.

Nice striker Evann Guessand, Le Havre left-back Christopher Operi and Lorient frontman Mohamed Bamba have all earned their first senior call-ups as part of Faé’s revamp.

Guessand and Bamba both featured for France at youth level, while Bamba’s former Elephants Under-23 teammate Mohamed Diomande of Rangers is another new addition after opting to represent Cote d’Ivoire over Ghana.

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Middlesbrough striker Emmanuel Latte Lath completes the influx of new faces as Faé looks to build for the future while keeping one eye on this year’s qualifiers.

While the quintet of uncapped players grabbed the headlines, there were also recalls for the likes of Rennes midfielder Guela Doue, who scored a crucial goal against Uruguay in March.

However, several big names from February’s  AFCON triumph have missed out, including captain Serge Aurier and fellow defender Eric Bailly due to a lack of game time at club level.

They are joined by Ibrahim Sangare, Karim Konate, Christian Kouame and Jean Krasso in being omitted, while there is no place in the 26-man squad for Wilfried Zaha despite Faé holding talks with the Galatasaray winger about a potential return.

Star names such as Franck Kessie, Sebastien Haller, Evan N’Dicka, Seko Fofana and Yahi Fofana have all been retained as the spine of Faé’s squad for the crucial double-header.

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The Elephants currently top Group F but know maximum points against Gabon and Kenya could prove crucial in their bid to secure one of the section’s prized spots in North America in two years’ time.

Full squad


Goalkeepers : Yahia Fofana (Angers), Badra Ali (Sekhukhune), Mohamed Koné (Dunkirk)

Defenders : Willy Boly (Nottingham), Christopher Operi (Havre), Ousmane Diomande (Sporting), Odilon Kossounou (Leverkusen), Evan Ndicka (Roma), Ghislain Konan (Al-Fayha), Guela Doue (Rennes), Wilfried Singo (Monaco ), Emmanuel Agbadou (Reims)

Midfielders : Mohamed Diomande (Rangers), Franck Kessie (Al-Ahli), Jean Michael Seri (Hull), Seko Fofana (Al Ettifaq), Lazare Amani (Union SG), Habib Traore (Napoli)

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Forwards : Mohamed Bamba (Lorient), Sebastien Haller (Dortmund), Evan Guessand (Nice), Oumar Diakite (Reims), Jeremie Boga (Nice), Nicolas Pepe (Trabzonspor), Simon Adingra (Brighton), Emmanuel Latte Lath (Middlesbrough)

-CAF

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