Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers: Top five matchups to watch

The qualification picture for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations should become clearer over the next 10 days as teams contest home-and-away fixtures that should have a major bearing on their fortunes in a bid to reach Cameroon.

Some groups have already begun to take shape, while others remain tight from top to bottom, with unlikely qualifiers poised to win a place in the expanded 24-team Nations Cup field.

In this feature, KweséESPN preview five matchups in this round of double-headers that could prove crucial to the outcome of the pools.


Group D


12/10 Algeria vs. Benin - Blida

16/10 Benin vs. Algeria - Cotonou

Algeria's form has been dire in 2018, with four loses and a draw from their last five games.

That single stalemate came in The Gambia in the last round of qualifiers, a match they would have expected to win.

They have in fact won only two of their previous 13 internationals, with those successes against Central African Republic and Tanzania, two teams they would expect to brush aside.

It has been a rapid descent for the side, from a No. 18 global ranking in 2014 to their current position of 69.

They appointed former international Djamel Belmadi as their new coach in August, and this will be his second camp with the team as he seeks to secure a fourth consecutive continental qualification.

After an opening victory over Togo in their first pool match in June 2017, Algeria are level with Benin on four points at the top of the group.

If either side can secure back-to-back wins, it would virtually, or possibly even definitely, depending on other results between The Gambia and Togo, secure their place in Cameroon.

However, a failure by Algeria to put in two strong showing will keep those lingering doubts about their demise in place.


Group E


13/10 Nigeria vs. Libya - Kaduna

16/10 Libya vs. Nigeria - Sfax (Tunisia)

If South Africa manage back-to-back wins against lowly Seychelles in their two qualifiers over the next 10 days, then Bafana Bafana will be in a strong position to take their place in Cameroon.

That could leave Nigeria and Libya to slug it out for second spot, and the North Africans have shown in the last 18 months that they are no pushovers, bringing organization, grit and no shortage of skill to the pitch.

Given that all teams in the pool will expect to beat the Seychelles, these could be the pivotal matches for this duo, although Nigeria must also still travel to South Africa and Libya must entertain Bafana.

Nigeria look settled under Gernot Rohr and will have the likes of Arsenal's Alex Iwobi back, though captain John Mikel Obi remains sidelined.

Libya have chosen virtually the same squad that claimed a 0-0 draw in South Africa last month, a game in which they were perhaps unfortunate not to get a win.

They will look to frustrate Nigeria in Kaduna and hit on the counter, with the Super Eagles hoping they are able to find more penetration that Bafana managed in Durban.

The return leg will be played in neutral Sfax, Tunisia, with Libya unable to host games in their own country due to security issues.


Group G

13/10 DR Congo vs. Zimbabwe - Kinshasa

f16/10 Zimbabwe vs. DR Congo - Harare

On the face of it, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe look the likely qualifiers from this pool, but Congo-Brazzaville make for an interesting 'third wheel' who could yet upset the favourites.

For that reason, the home-and-away clashes between the pair over the next week represent a chance of one of them to take charge of the group and cement their place in the finals...if they can bag a pair of wins.

Both sides currently have four points, ahead of Congo-Brazzaville and Liberia with one each.

They will hope the less fancied duo cancel each other out in their clashes, while nobody will fancy a trip to Monrovia in this pool.

Zimbabwe have only ever qualified for the Nations Cup finals three times in their history, the last in 2017, a dismal record for a country with a proud football heritage.

While not quite a Golden Generation, they have a good squad of players at present and the expectation for them should be a place at the top table.

Gabon have much more continental pedigree and with players now dotted across Europe, they have a formidable side.

However, they will also know that a slip-up here against Zimbabwe should leave them in danger, especially if their neighbours Congo-Brazzaville get a pair of victories over Liberia.

With a meeting in Brazzaville next month, that could leave Florent Ibengé's side in serious peril.


Group I

12/10 Angola vs. Mauritania - Luanda

16/10 Mauritania vs. Angola - Nouakchott

Mauritania are surprise leaders at the top of the pool after a home win over Burkina Faso (2-0) and an away success over Botswana (1-0) as they seek a first visit to the Nations Cup.

Their haul of six points is three better than the Burkinabe and Angola, and a pair of wins against the Southern Africans will seal the deal for the side.

However, even one win could be viewed as a success with Botswana still to visit Nouakchott, though that would leave them open to being caught, unless they can come out of these ties with a better head-to-head scoring record than the Angolans.

Mauritania are benefitting from some continuity, with coach Corentin Martins having led the side since 2014, and they are more and more relying on their diaspora, with Abdoul Ba (AJ Auxerre) and Harouna Abou Demba (Grenoble) both called up for this tie.

Angola are unbeaten in nine home matches, but last won at the home of their opponents when they beat a third-string South Africa in an African Nations Championship qualifier in October 2015.

Home wins for either side look the likely outcome here.


Group L

12/10 Cape Verde vs. Tanzania - Praia

16/10 Tanzania vs. Cape Verde - Dar es Salaam

Cape Verde have qualified for two of the last three Nations Cup finals, and in March 2016 were briefly ranked as the top team in Africa.

However, they are in danger of being cut adrift at the foot of their preliminary pool for Cameroon as they prepare for matches against Tanzania.

The form of the side has been mixed of late, they beat South Africa in home and away World Cup qualifiers last year, and also claimed victory over Algeria, but were humbled 4-0 by Burkina Faso and held to a 1-1 draw by Lesotho last month.

Defeats for Tanzania and wins for Uganda or Lesotho in their matches could see Cape Verde's chances of making the finals cut dramatically, which would be a surprise in a pool in which they might expect to be top dogs.

They are hoping to find some consistency under Portuguese coach Rui Aguas, who took over earlier this year, and with their plethora of European-based players, should feel confident...at home at least.

However, Tanzania, under their Nigerian coach Emmanuel Amuneke, might smell an upset and, having claimed a draw in Uganda already, have shown themselves to be no pushovers.

Tanzania's only previous visit to the finals came in 1980.