This isn’t the first time Tunisia have gone under the radar as far as qualifiers are concerned, and it won’t be the last!
A fairly convincing argument could be made that the Carthage Eagles are the true winners of Tuesday’s draw.
For Pot Two, they avoided all of the major threats, and instead have been pitted against a dysfunctional Zambia side who haven’t been the same since Wedson Nyirenda’s exit and were defeated at home by Zimbabwe in November.
Similarly, Equatorial Guinea have failed to build on their strong Afcon performance on home soil in 2015 and are one of the more favourable teams to draw from Pot Four.
The Indomitable Lions drew the short straw in Tuesday’s draw, being handed the Ivory Coast—giants who began the day in Pot Two—and now facing a tricky route to the playoffs.
Cameroon are Africa’s most successful team in terms of World Cup qualification—they’ve been there seven times before—but this is a side that appears to have lost their way.
The Clarence Seedorf didn’t work, they were dumped out of the Nations Cup by Nigeria after an unconvincing group stage showing, and were recently held at home by Cape Verde.
Winners: Benin, Madagascar, Tanzania
The Democratic Republic of Congo were the lowest ranked of the 10 seeds for the qualifying draw, and that position was even somewhat generous considering their form in 2019.
They were generally poor at the Nations Cup, apart from one magical afternoon against Zimbabwe, and are an unknown quantity following the departure of Florent Ibenge and the arrival of Christian Nsengi-Biembe.
Unfortunately for them, they’ve been pooled against Benin and Madagascar, two sides who demonstrated at the Nations Cup that they know how to take down teams much stronger than they, and a Tanzania side who boast quality going forward.
Obviously, the Leopards will be hoping that their superiority will tell and that the strong trio in their group will take points off each other, but their own vulnerability represents an opportunity for Benin or Madagascar.
There’s talent there, but Toni Conceicao is a wildcard choice as head coach, and Wilfried Zaha and Nicolas Pepe have the quality to end Cameroon’s Qatar hopes prematurely.
Mauritania, in Pot Three, could be a banana skin, but ranked 100th in the world—compared to Tunisia’s 27th—they would do well to repeat the 0-0 draw they managed against the Carthage Eagles at the 2019 Afcon.
The Harambee Stars will—rightly—be buoyed by their recent away draw against Egypt in the Afcon qualifying campaign, giving Kenya confidence that there is life after Sebastien Migne.
They also proved themselves against Ghana during the 2019 Nations Cup qualifiers, memorably defeating the Black Stars 1-0 en route to Egypt. With a favourable draw, the Pot Three team could realistically have harboured hopes of making the playoffs.
However, while they might be pleased to have been pitted against Mali—one of the weaker seeds—the presence of neighbours Uganda in Group E will represent a stern test.
The Cranes were among the strongest teams in Pot Two, and are a nation on the rise following the fine work of Sebastien Desabre and Milutin Sredojevic.
They have the quality to overtake Mali into top spot, and Kenya must be hoping that a derby atmosphere can ensure a ‘levelling of the playing field’ or that Uganda take time to settle under new coach Johnny McKinstry.
Rwanda, the Pot Four team in Group E, will also represent a stern test for the Stars.
Winners: Senegal and Algeria
he two Afcon finalists remain the strongest teams in Africa, and they’ll both be encouraged by their group stage draws.
None of the three teams in Algeria’s group qualified for the Nations Cup in 2019, and Burkina Faso are a shadow of the side who reached the final in 2013 and finished third at the Afcon four years later.
Niger and Djibouti represent two of the three weakest possible draws they could have received from the two lesser pots, with the Riverains de la Mer Rouge—ranked 184 in the world—the weakest nation still standing.
For Senegal, the presence of Togo—potentially an ominous threat in Pot Four—shouldn’t cause too many sleepless nights, while Congo-Brazzaville were the weakest and Namibia the second weakest teams in pots two and three according to the Fifa rankings.
The Teranga Lions and the Desert Foxes will only have themselves to blame if they don’t make the playoffs.