2022 World Cup draw: Some 'easy' groups await Africa's giants, but they must beware overconfidence
The 40 African nations still standing in the qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup learned the identities of their group stage opponents during a star-studded event at The Nile Ritz-Carlton in Cairo on Tuesday, but not everyone will be happy with their lot.
Teams were drawn into 10 groups of four teams, with the winners of each pool set to advance to two-legged playoffs.
Here's ESPN's group-by-group guide to the 10 pools in light of Tuesday's draw; who are the winners and losers from the second round draw, and who are our predicted 10 qualifiers for the playoffs?
Group A: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, Djibouti
Where's the intrigue? Algeria are the continent's reigning champions, while Djibouti, ranked 184th in the world, are comfortably the weakest team still left standing in qualifying.
It will be an intriguing mismatch, with the Shoremen of the Red Sea now under the management of ambitious Frenchman Julien Mette.
Match to watch: Algeria vs Djibouti. During his time as AS Otoho coach, Mette was defeated 9-0 by MC Alger in the CAF Champions League... he won't want a repeat at international level.
Predicted winner: Algeria
What did they say? "I felt that there was a big chance we'd get [Algeria], and it's a beautiful story, for us, the little minnows, to come across the champions of Africa." - Julien Mette, Football 365.
Group B: Tunisia, Zambia, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea
Where's the intrigue? Zambia impressed during World Cup 2018 qualification, as Wedson Nyirenda got the best out of a talented group of youngsters. They've dramatically lost their way since then, but the arrival of former Orlando Pirates and SC Zamalek coach Milutin Sredojevic should give them a shot in the arm.
Match to watch: Zambia vs Tunisia - It could be the match that decides that this group is a procession for the Carthage Eagles, or proves that Micho still has that Midas touch in international football.
Predicted winner: Tunisia
What did they say? "[We're] living our dreams," - Mauritania coach Corentin Martins on Instagram after the draw. Les Mourabitounes have never come close to World Cup qualification, but competed at the AFCON for the first time last year.
Group C: Nigeria, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Liberia
Where's the intrigue? The Super Eagles haven't fluffed World Cup qualification since being stunned by Angola in 2005, they're not going to mess this one up... are they?
Match to watch: Cape Verde vs Nigeria - The islanders can be gritty, tenacious opponents, and know how to punch above their weight, particularly on their artificial turf in Praia. They eliminated the Eagles from the 2019 WAFU Cup in Senegal, and recently held Cameroon 0-0 away in Afcon 2021 qualification. Can they make life tricky for Gernot Rohr's giants?
Predicted winner: Nigeria
What did they say? "We have three tricky opponents. A few years ago, Cape Verde were Africa's best FIFA ranked team, CAR have some good players in Europe. We played a friendly in Liberia recently that wasn't easy...we've [got] to be at our best against them." - Nigeria's Rohr, on the Super Eagles' Twitter handle.
Group D: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Malawi
Where's the intrigue? Two African giants, the winners of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015 and 2017, going head to head for one spot in the playoffs; what more do you want?
Match to watch: Cameroon vs Ivory Coast - The Indomitable Lions drew the short straw to find themselves pitted against the Elephants, a heavyweight lurking in Pot Two.
Considering Cameroon's own decline in recent years, they'll do well to reach a record-extending eighth World Cup, and this match, which will bring back memories of Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o tussling in the 2006 qualifying campaign, could prove decisive.
Predicted winner: Ivory Coast... just.
Group E: Mali, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda
Where's the intrigue? Ahead of the draw, Mali and Uganda looked like the most likely 'first time qualifiers', and after being pooled together, it appears likely that one will reach the playoffs. Oh, and there's also the matter of a pair of East African derbies to look forward to.
Match to watch: Mali vs Uganda - During the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign, the Cranes defeated Egypt at home to boost their prospects, but defeat in Alexandria left them with two much to do. If they can improve away from home, and avoid defeat in Bamako, then they may be on the brink of finally ending East Africa's wait for a World Cup berth.
Predicted winner: Uganda
What did they say? "The Malian spirit, the Eagle spirit must prevail. To reach our objects, we need a sacred union around the national team. If we want to go to a World Cup, we mustn't calculate anymore, we must take our chances right to the end." - Mali's Mohamed Magassouba to local media.
Group F: Egypt, Gabon, Libya, Angola
Where's the intrigue? Egypt, wounded animals after a miserable Nations Cup on home soil last summer, didn't give a good account of themselves at the last World Cup and will be desperate to make amends. Mohamed Salah headlines a solid cast, but this group may prove trickier than it appears at first glance.
Match to watch: Egypt vs Gabon, Salah vs Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - Two of Africa's superstars, both reigning Premier League Golden Boot winners, headline sides that -- to a man -- cannot match their quality. They both have unfinished business at international level, for different reasons, but only one can advance to the playoffs.
Predicted winner: Egypt
What did they say? "We have to look back at our history and remember the number of groups we considered 'easy' before they ended up being quite difficult which stopped [us] from qualifying." - Egypt's Hossam El-Badry, to the Egyptian Federation.
Group G: Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia
Where's the intrigue? Perhaps the most fascinating of the 10 groups; both Ghana and South Africa are continental giants and former African champions, but both have fallen on hard times in recent years. The Black Stars endured a tournament to forget in Brazil 2014, and neither qualified for 2018.
However, there are green shoots of optimism for both, in the form of Ghana's new FA leadership and the return of domestic football, and Bafana Bafana's encouraging showing at the Nations Cup.
There's also the small matter of a pair of South Africa-Zimbabwe clashes, a neighbourly derby that won't be friendly.
Match to watch: South Africa vs Ghana - Bafana were recently defeated 2-0 by Ghana in Cape Coast in the Afcon qualifiers, during one of Molefi Ntseki's early games in change. However, in front of home support, it's imperative South Africa take all three points when these two cross swords again.
Predicted winner: South Africa
What did they say? "The last time they took us to Cape Coast it was difficult for us when it comes to travelling and player recovery‚ but this time we will go into this match knowing the conditions." - Ntseki, as per The Sowetan.
Group H: Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Namibia, Togo
Where's the intrigue? Senegal are overwhelming favourites to win after being handed a particularly favourable draw. Togo, surprise qualifiers in 2006, have a love-hate relationship with their experienced manager Claude Le Roy, but would need a major upturn in fortunes to progress.
Match to watch: Togo vs Senegal - How 71-year-old 'White Sorcerer' Le Roy would love to send shockwaves across the continent once again with victory over Sadio Mane and Senegal.
Predicted winner: Senegal
What did they say? "Senegal are the clear favourites in our group, but favourites were made to be beaten. Across six matches, you can have surprises." - Togo's Le Roy, to APS.
Group I: Morocco, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan
Where's the intrigue? Morocco, like Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia, are overwhelming favourites, but the side still need to settle in a new identity following the post-Nations Cup departure of influential coach Herve Renard and the arrival of Vahid Halilhodzic.
Match to watch: Guinea vs Morocco - The Atlas Lions failed to win away in West Africa in the qualifying campaigns for the 2000 Afcon and the 2006 World Cup, putting pressure on themselves ahead of the home legs. Will Hakim Ziyech and co. be able to find a way through when they travel to Conakry this time around?
Predicted winner: Morocco
Group J: Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Madagascar, Tanzania
Where's the intrigue? The most evenly matched of all the groups, DR Congo were poor at the Nations Cup and appear to have lost their way, while Benin and Madagascar have improved dramatically over the last 18 months. Both know how to upset bigger teams, and will realise they may never have a better opportunity to compete for a berth at the World Cup.
Match to watch: Madagascar vs DR Congo - The islanders held Senegal at home and defeated Nigeria during the Nations Cup, but can they take that blueprint into a likely must-win home game against the Leopards?
Predicted winner: Benin
What did they say? "We have to thoroughly evaluate what didn't work and why we weren't at the last edition in Russia, and based on the errors that we find, we must see how to correct them and prepare ourselves." - DRC assistant coach Guy Bukasa, on national television.