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African World Cup Qualifiers: Midway-point review

We're at the midway point in Africa's World Cup qualifying campaign, as the race to be among the continent's five representatives in Russia hots up.

With only the winners advancing from each of the five four-team groups, the margin for error was always going to be small, and yet all but two of Africa's contenders have dropped points from their three games to date, with only Nigeria and Tunisia preserving a 100 percent record.

Of all of the 20 teams in the running for Russia - and no nation is mathematically out of contention - the Super Eagles appear best placed to qualify for next summer's showpiece, and would confirm their presence with victory over Cameroon in Yaounde on Monday.

Few Nigeria fans would even have entertained the prospect that the Eagles could be the first of the continent's sides to book their place at the World Cup when the draw was made, pitting them in Group B alongside Algeria, Zambia and the Indomitable Lions.

That, coupled with failure to reach the previous two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, left new coach Gernot Rohr with much to do in order to get the continent's fallen heavyweights to their sixth World Cup.

Yet they have been the main beneficiaries from Algeria's implosion, while a bright young side - underpinned by the experience of John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Odion Ighalo - exposed the limitations of African champions who were flattered by their AFCON triumph earlier this year when they ran out 4-0 winners in Uyo on Friday.

Zambia's bright 3-1 triumph over Algeria in Lusaka on Saturday not only left the Fennecs' World Cup hopes in tatters, but hinted at a brighter future for Chipolopolo, even if a maiden World Cup appearance may be beyond them this time.

Tunisia, who have also won all three of their opening fixtures, are in a less promising position than the Super Eagles, despite beating nearest rivals the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-1 in Rades on Saturday.

The Leopards were perhaps unfortunate not to have taken a draw in North Africa after a bright attacking display in which their chief attacking talents were persecuted by laser-wielding fans for the duration, and Florent Ibenge's side will be quietly confident that they can secure victory in the return match in Kinshasa on Tuesday.

A win would take them back to pole position in the group due to goal difference, while even Guinea - inspired by Naby Keita - aren't out of the running after downing Libya in a classic on Thursday.

Group D is the tightest of the five pools, where all four teams are separated by just two points.

Group heavyweights Senegal and South Africa ought to have taken the opportunity to consolidate top spot in matchday three, but both conspired to drop points, the former after being held at home by Burkina Faso, and the latter after a 2-1 come-from-behind victory by previously pointless Cape Verde.

If Senegal can find consistency over their remaining three fixtures - beginning away in Ouagadougou on Tuesday - then they have the talent to reach their first World Cup since 2002, but South Africa, revived under Stuart Baxter before Friday's setback, will be confident of bouncing back against the islanders in Durban.

Burkina Faso, who finished third at the Nations Cup, currently top the group and cannot be ruled out, and don't be surprised if they can frustrate Senegal and take one giant step towards their maiden World Cup in next week's showdown.

Pre-qualifying predictions had Group C down as a two-horse race, and it's certainly looking that way, after the Ivory Coast and Morocco recorded big wins over the weekend to move into first and second on seven and five points respectively.

The Elephants, in the midst of a catastrophic 2017, overcame a staid first-half against dysfunctional Gabon in Libreville to run out 3-0 winners, with Seydou Doumbia bagging a brace, while Morocco - previously goalless - smashed hapless Mali 6-0 in Rabat.

Expect both sides to pick up maximum points in their next two fixtures - eliminating sub-standard Gabon and Mali - to set up a potentially explosive winner-takes-all clash in Bouake between Herve Renard and his former employers in the final gameweek on November 6.

Finally, continental heavyweights Egypt and Ghana were expected to take control of Group E after being pooled alongside Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville, but the World Cup claims of both giants are faltering after a miserable weekend.

The Black Stars - present at the last three World Cups, and Nations Cup semifinalists (at least) in the last six tournaments - parted ways with Avram Grant after taking just one point from their two opening fixtures, but any hopes of a turnaround under new boss Kwesi Appiah were dashed when they were held 1-1 by Congo on Friday.

The Kumasi crowd turned against the Black Stars after a lethargic performance before Thomas Partey's late equaliser, but while that goal may have rescued a point, it would take a near miraculous effort for Ghana to salvage their campaign.

Egypt, primed to be the main beneficiaries to Ghana's toil, failed to capitalise in Kampala when they were beaten by a rugged and disciplined Uganda side after Emmanuel Okwi scored the only goal of the game.

The Cranes may have lost their coach Milutin Sredojevic after the non-payment of wages, but they've lost none of the self-sacrificing ethos and organisation the Serbian imbued into the side, and frustrated the Pharaohs - with help from a sub-par surface at the Mandela National Stadium.

If group leaders Uganda can deny Egypt victory in Alexandria on Tuesday, the Cranes would have at least a one-point advantage heading into the final two matchdays, and the prospect of maiden East African representation at the World Cup may not seem so far-fetched.

Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.

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