CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Africa’s World Cup playoffs will serve up a Mohamed Salah vs. Sadio Mané sequel as the Liverpool teammates face off on opposite sides again with their countries, this time for a place at soccer’s biggest show.
Salah’s Egypt will face Mané’s Senegal in one of the continent’s five decisive World Cup playoffs, with the first leg in Cairo on Friday. The draw for the playoffs was made before the two Liverpool stars met in last month’s African Cup of Nations final, which was won by Senegal in a shootout thanks to Mané’s winning penalty.
The second leg is at Senegal’s new 50,000-seat Abdoulaye Wade Stadium on Tuesday.
Egypt vs. Senegal headlines the playoffs, but there’s also a big West African derby pitting Ghana against Nigeria.
Cameroon vs. Algeria, Congo vs. Morocco and Mali vs. Tunisia are the other playoffs to decide Africa’s five teams at this year’s World Cup in Qatar. All the first legs are on Friday and the second legs on Tuesday.
EGYPT vs. SENEGAL
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp recognized the significance of the game when he rested Mané for Sunday’s FA Cup quarterfinal against Nottingham Forest because Salah was already out with a minor injury. Klopp didn’t want one to have more rest than the other ahead of the crucial meeting.
“Because the game is too big in Africa,” Klopp said.
Unsurprisingly, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse largely kept faith with the players that became African champions in Cameroon on Feb. 6 when considering his squad. Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz challenged Salah and his teammates to succeed this time “because there is no room for sorrys or tomorrows.”
GHANA vs. NIGERIA
Four-time African champion and former World Cup quarterfinalist Ghana is in damage control following an embarrassing group-stage exit at the African Cup at the hands of tiny Comoros. Ghana has new leadership in head coach Otto Addo and technical advisor Chris Hughton after Milovan Rajevac was fired for the African Cup failure. It’s also without captain Andre Ayew because of his red card in that loss to Comoros.
Ghana must beat a resurgent Nigeria to get to the World Cup. Nigeria was at times impressive at the African Cup and has been strengthened by the return of strikers Victor Osimhen and Odion Ighalo, who were both unavailable for that tournament.
CAMEROON vs. ALGERIA
Like Ghana, Algeria has to restore its reputation after a dire defense of its African title in Cameroon, when it exited bottom of its group and without winning a game. There have been repercussions. Veteran striker Baghdad Bounedjah and midfielder Yassine Brahimi have been dropped from the squad by coach Djamel Belmadi.
Cameroon is now coached by former national captain Rigobert Song, who was appointed a month ago with the support of new Cameroon federation president Samuel Eto’o, his former teammate. The Indomitable Lions’ buildup has been complicated by goalkeeper André Onana’s involvement in a serious car crash this week — he escaped unhurt — and the unavailability of key midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa because of injury.
CONGO vs. MOROCCO
Congo could be the story of the playoffs if it surprises Morocco to reach the World Cup for the first time since its only previous appearance at the 1974 tournament in West Germany as Zaire. That may be remembered for the 9-0 loss to Yugoslavia that still shares the record as the World Cup’s biggest defeat. But this Congo team is led by experienced Argentine coach Héctor Cúper and can call on former Belgium youth player Théo Bongonda for the first time after the winger switched allegiance to his parents’ country of birth in January.
Morocco is the clear favorite to advance even without Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, who has turned down a recall because of his ongoing feud with coach Vahid Hallihodzic.
MALI vs. TUNISIA
Mali is the only one of the 10 playoff contenders to have never played at a World Cup before. It has now been able to call up two former France under-21 players in Eintracht Frankfurt defender Almamy Touré and Everton midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré against Tunisia.