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History makers Morocco to begin World Cup qualifying against Eritrea

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Morocco defender Achraf Hakimi chases the ball during the 2022 World Cup third-place play-off against Croatia in Qatar. Photo: AFP

World Cup history makers Morocco will host minnows Eritrea — 181 places lower in the FIFA rankings — when they start their quest for a place at the 2026 tournament.

The first two of 10 matchdays in Africa are scheduled for November 13-21 and, after Eritrea, the first semi-finalists from Africa face a potentially tricky visit to improving Tanzania.

Last December in Qatar, Morocco became only the third country outside of Europe and South America to reach the World Cup semi-finals, emulating the United States and South Korea.

They shocked Belgium and held Croatia in the group stage, then eliminated Spain and Portugal in knockout matches before falling to France.

In 16 pre-Qatar World Cup matches spanning five tournaments, the north Africans had won only two and suffered nine defeats.

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Morocco were given little chance of surviving the first round in Qatar, especially after a late change of coaches with local Walid Regragui succeeding Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic.

But Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Sofyan Amrabat, Hakim Ziyech and Youssef en-Nesyri inspired their teammates to defy the odds.

Apart from Eritrea and Tanzania, Morocco will face Zambia, Congo Brazzaville and Niger in Group E, with the team topping the final standings qualifying for the finals.

Morocco should justify being the top seeds in the mini-league, which stretches from November to October 2025, with Patson Daka-inspired Zambia and Tanzania probably the biggest threats.

Threats to Nigeria

Egypt, reigning African champions Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Algeria, Tunisia and Mali are the other countries seeded to top final tables and qualify automatically.

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Like Morocco, they will kick off their campaigns at home to the lowest-ranked side in the group, then visit the team ranked fourth.

Seeding was based on the FIFA rankings, and Mali are the only top seeds not to have featured at a World Cup.

Cameroon lead the way with eight appearances and have been drawn with Cape Verde, Angola, Libya, Eswatini and Mauritius in Group D.

Nigeria, six-time qualifiers but shock absentees from Qatar after losing a play-off against arch rivals Ghana, could find South Africa and Zimbabwe troublesome Group C rivals.

Ghana are set to pose the biggest challenge to Mali in Group I, which also includes Madagascar, the Central African Republic, the Comoros and Chad.

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Democratic Republic of Congo, the first sub-Saharan qualifiers for the World Cup in 1974 when the country was called Zaire, are capable of testing Group B favourites Senegal.

Algeria, missing from Qatar after a play-off loss to Cameroon, will probably view unpredictable Guinea as the nation most likely to upset them in Group G.

Competition for places at the finals in Canada, Mexico and the United States does not end with the nine group winners.

The best four runners-up go into play-offs and the winners enter a six-team inter-continental tournament with two World Cup places up for grabs.

-AFP

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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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World Cup

Can of worms discovered in Super Eagles camp

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

All is not well at the moment with the Nigeria’s Super Eagles who have gone seven World Cup qualifying matches since November 2021 without a win.

The dwindled fortunes contrast sharply for a team noted before now as the African sides with the longest unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers. At time, they were unbeaten since losing through a late goal to Angola in Luanda on 20 June 2004 till 10 November 2017 when their 1-1 draw with Algeria was converted to a 3-0 forfeiture owing to NFF featuring an unqualified player. At  the time, Super Eagles had raked 35 unbeaten run. At another time from 2012 to 2013, the team had an unbeaten run of 18 matches from 3 June 2012  when they beat Namibia 1-0 in Calabar to 21 June 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in a FIFA Confederations match in Brazil.

 Yet the same outfit has turned laborious after losing its flairs. A source close to Finidi George told Sports Village Square that the coach complained that the NFF just heaped all the blames of the team’s current precarious situation on him while exonerating the players.  

  He also reportedly remarked that the NFF did nothing to mobilise crowd support for the Super Eagles in the back-breaking encounter with Benin Republic in Abidjan despite the presence of large Nigerian community in the Ivorian commercial capital city.

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 A Benin Republic sports journalist confirmed this to Sports Village Square. The journalist remarked that it was true that there “were not many Nigerians at the Félix Houphouet Boigny stadium even though Nigeria has a strong community in the Ivory Coast.  I see that the defeat against the Republic of Benin really hurts.”

  Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the President General of the Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSP) had earlier made the same assertion on the neglect of crowd mobilisation for the Super Eagles and that those who made it to Uyo and had auto accident on their way back were not even given a mention by the NFF.

 He had since 1991 established the first of the international cells of the supporters club. They were not mobilised for the game against Benin Republic.

 On players attitude, a member of the NFF confirmed that the Super Eagles camp in Uyo was loose as players went to camp with their girl friends.

 That could also explain their dismal forms in the back-to-back destiny shaping encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.

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BREAKING! Finidi George formally resigns

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Nigeria Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George has resigned from his post as Super Eagles’ coach, two days after the Nigeria Football Federation announced it was going to employ a foreign technical adviser.

A source close to Finidi told Sports Village Square that Finidi sent his resignation letter to Ibrahim Gusau “3o minutes ago.”

 Finidi was said to be livid that the NFF leadership met with the sports minister two days ago, but failed to mention that players reported late to the camp and that they didi nothing to mobilise Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire to come out to support the Super Eagles in last Monday’s match with Benin Republic.

“He complained that the NFF heaped all the blames on him”, said the source.

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  Calls to NFF officials to verify the information were not answered.  

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World Cup

UPDATE: NFF may spare Finidi George

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Under fire Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George may excape sack afterall. A source close to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) told Sports Village Square that Finidi may not be sacked.

 He would however work under the foreign technical adviser that the football governing body is planning to hire in the next few weeks.

  The source who was privy to the Wednesday’s ‘hybrid mode’ meeting of the NFF informed that Finidi George will be designated as ‘Chief Coach’ while the expatriate will be the technical adviser.

It is however unclear how the NFF will foot the wage bill of the technical adviser, who may also come with his personal crew as Finidi George  also already have his own foreign assistants.

There is also no word on the loud absence of Daniel Amokachi who was designated as Finidi George’s assistant, but failed to show up at the Super Eagles’ camp leading to the ill-fated World Cup match day 3 and 4 encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.  

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