Draws for African teams have been unveiled for the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers billed to hold in the USA, Canada and Mexico. Nine groups of six have been drawn, while for the first time the continent will be represented by at least nine countries. This is a consequence of the new competition format adopted by the FiFA.
Congo Brazzaville, Tanzania, Niger and Eritrea complete Group E after a draw made on Thursday in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast's commercial capital, by former African stars.
Morocco became the first African or Arab country to reach the World Cup semi-finals last December in Qatar before losing to France, and finished fourth.
With Europe-based stars like Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Sofyan Amrabat and Youssef en-Nesyri available, they look likely winners of the section with Zambia posing the greatest threat.
Morocco are the highest placed African team in the latest FIFA rankings, ahead of Cup of Nations title-holders Senegal with Tunisia third.
Senegal are in Group B and the biggest danger to them is likely to come from the rapidly improving Democratic Republic of Congo, who played in the 1974 World Cup when known as Zaire.
Like Morocco, Sadio Mane-inspired Senegal are seeking a third consecutive appearance at the four-yearly global showpiece, with the next edition set for mid-2026.
Tunisia are in Group H with Equatorial Guinea, a rising force in Africa who beat the north Africans in a Cup of Nations qualifier last month.
Long-time rivals Nigeria and South Africa will clash in Group C, which includes Zimbabwe, whose FIFA ban for government interference in football was lifted two days ago.
Ghana, who made an early exit in Qatar, will fancy their chances of finishing first in Group I above Mali, the only first seeds who have not qualified for the World Cup.
Cameroon, who hold the African record for World Cup qualification with eight appearances, have been poor in recent Cup of Nations matches, offering hope to Cape Verde and Angola in Group D.
Algeria, who lost out to Cameroon for a place in Qatar, appear likely winners of Group G with unpredictable Guinea probably the main challengers.
Ivory Coast, hosts of the next Cup of Nations in January and February 2024, are another country who will be satisfied with the draw.
The biggest threat to the three-time World Cup qualifiers could come not from second seeds Gabon, but from shock 2021 Cup of Nations quarter-finalists Gambia.
Egypt have won the Cup of Nations a record seven times, but often struggle to qualify for the World Cup, reaching the final only three times.
They are in Group A, where Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau could trouble the Mohamed Salah-captained Pharaohs.
With the number of finalists expanding from 32 in Qatar to 48 in North and Central America, Africa are guaranteed a record nine places, and possibly 10.
Each group winner will qualify automatically and the best four runners-up enter play-offs with the winner going to inter-confederation play-offs, with two places up for grabs.
Apart from an African team, the confederation play-offs will include two teams from North/Central America and one each from Asia, South America and Oceania.
Matchdays one and two in Africa will be played this November, with a further two rounds next year and six in 2025.