World Cup Qualifiers: Friends turn rivals in quest for berth
Africa’s World Cup play-offs 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 play-offs, with the first leg in Cairo on Friday. The draw for the play-offs 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. While Egypt versus Senegal headlines the play-offs, there’s also a big West African Derby pitting Ghana against Nigeria.
Cameroon versus Algeria, Congo versus Morocco and Mali versus Tunisia are the other play-offs 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.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp recognised the significance of the game when he rested Mané for Sunday’s FA Cup quarter final 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 February 6. Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz challenged Salah and his teammates to succeed this time “because there is no room for sorrys or tomorrows.”
Four-time African champion and former World Cup quarter finalist Ghana are in damage-control mode following an embarrassing group-stage exit at the African Cup at the hands of tiny Comoros. Ghana have new leadership in head coach Otto Addo. They are 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.