/ 26 July 2015

Tough 2018 World Cup task for Bafana Bafana

(L-R) Samuel Eto'o
(L-R) Samuel Eto'o

South Africa were handed a tough task when the draw for the preliminary African qualifying rounds of the 2018 World Cup was made Saturday in host nation Russia.

Bafana Bafana, who have played in the global football showcase three times, were paired with fellow southern Africans Angola during a ceremony in Saint Petersburg.

It is the only one of 20 second-round ties featuring two former qualifiers with Angola shock participants in the 2006 tournament.

South Africa reached the 1998 and 2002 competitions via the qualifying route and were automatic 2010 World Cup contestants as hosts.

Only seven African rankings places divide Bafana Bafana and the Palancas Negras (Sable Antelopes) and the clash is a highlight of the draw.

Recent Africa Cup of Nations qualifying form suggests a close contest during November with the first leg to be played in Angola.

South Africa were held 0-0 at home by lowly Gambia last month while Angola whipped visiting Central African Republic 4-0 in a show of force.

Seeding ensured there would not be many high-profile clashes, with that between four-time qualifiers Morocco and 2015 Cup of Nations semi-finalists Equatorial Guinea an exception.

Morocco pulled out of hosting the last Africa Cup because they feared visiting supporters could bring the deadly Ebola virus into the kingdom.

Last-minute replacements Equatorial Guinea used home advantage to good effect, reaching the penultimate stage before bowing to Ghana.

The Moroccan Atlas Lions have not featured at a World Cup since 1998, but boast a squad that includes Bayern Munich defender Mehdi Benatia and Granada striker Youssef El Arabi.

Cameroon start campaigning for a record-extending eighth appearance by an African team with an away game against Somalia or Niger.

Nigeria, the second most frequent African qualifiers, look set to tackle Swaziland, who should eliminate bottom-of-the-rankings Djibouti in a first round confined to the weaker nations.

Cup of Nations title-holders Ivory Coast and Ghana, the team they defeated on penalties in the final last February, are chasing fourth consecutive World Cup appearances.

The Ivorians begin with a visit to Liberia or Guinea-Bissau while Ghana travel to the Comoros Islands off the south-east coast or Lesotho.

Highest-ranked African team Algeria, who took eventual 2014 world champions Germany to extra time in a last-16 clash in Brazil, play Tanzania or Malawi.

Egypt, winners of the Cup of Nations a record seven times but repeated World Cup qualifying flops, were drawn against Chad or Sierra Leone.

Debutants South Sudan face Mauritania and Mauritius play Kenya in the first round.

The two-leg first-round ties are scheduled to be played between October 5 and 13 with the second-round fixtures to be staged between November 9 and 17 this year.

Places in the group stage await the 20 second-round winners with the five table-toppers going to Russia.