The path to the FIFA World Cup 2026 gets underway this November for 54 African countries. And unlike the previous qualifiers, nine African countries will fight for a place at the biggest sporting event globally.
The tournament will also be the first to include 48 teams, expanded from 32, and hosted by three countries USA, Canada and Mexico.
All 54 African countries are in nine groups of six. They will play in a home and away, round-robin, format with each of the group winners qualifying automatically for the FIFA World Cup 2026.
History, form and talent makes easy permutations of the nine countries that will qualify automatically in almost each group, except Group I with Mali and Ghana. Ignore perennial minnows Madagascar, Central African Republic, Comoros and Chad in that group, rather remember 10-men Mali missed the last World Cup due to an own goal, and consider Ghana as a frequenter of the World Cup tournaments. It feels as if there are more questions than answers in Group I. So over to you betting aficionados: Mali or Ghana?
Other than that, continental heavyweights, Egypt, Senegal, Nigeria, Cameroon, Morocco, Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria and Tunisia all look set to qualify, where the winner between the Mali and Ghana duel will complete the African roster.
The new format is an African prayer answered! It almost makes it certain just as the European qualifiers are obvious that Portugal, England, Spain and France will make it to the finals over punch bags Andora, Andorra, Armenia, Cyprus, Belarus, Malta, Moldova, Estonia, countries that even Chula Chula will beat with one eye closed.
So where does one see South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in the qualifiers? Is it a lost cause?
Zimbabwe and South Africa are in Group C with continental powerhouse Nigeria. It’s a Cosafa curse, as Lesotho is also lost in there. The group is perhaps best described as awkward rather than intimidating and the Super Eagles may smile all the way to the bank on this one. So, it will be a lost cause for either Zimbabwe or South Africa. Pity.
Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe’s chances lie on being the four best group runners-up who will then compete in a play-off stage to determine CAF’s representative at the FIFA play-off tournament.
After the nine automatic qualifiers, the second round will pit the four best runners-up in two one-off semi-finals, followed by a final. The winner of this second round will participate in the FIFA Play-off Tournament.
Still, it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for any of the four southern African teams to make it to the World Cup, even as CAF representative at the FIFA play-off tournament.
The FIFA play-off tournament will feature one team from each of FIFA’s six confederations, except UEFA, plus one additional team from the host confederation (Concacaf).
Two of the six teams will be seeded based on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. The seeded teams will play for a FIFA World Cup berth against the winners of the first two knockout games involving the four unseeded teams.
That’s a whole lot of football political intrigue for countries that have been case-studies of the so close yet so far philosophy.
So, lets focus on what we know best—hoping.
Namibia opens its Group H World Cup 2026 qualifying account on November 15 against Equatorial Guinea away, then Sao Tome e Principe a week later, and group favourites, Tunisia, are comfortable playing alongside Liberia and Malawi.
Tunisia are dripping with heritage and history. The Carthage Eagles are notorious for qualifying without much fuss but never making a statement on the big stage. No doubt, their chances of advancing are very high.
Over the years, the Tafel Lager Brave Warriors have developed into a progressive and well-organised side with a ferocious team spirit, forged in part around Peter Shalulile.
The Tafel Lager Brave Warriors certainly have the pedigree in the group not to drop points, but in the end, it will be a question of, do they have the form against Equatorial Guinea? Of course, the absence of injured Shalulile is a blow. Without him, the Malabo trip looks prohibitively tough.
There’s no doubting the most immediately attractive tie of the Group H encounter will be Tunisia vs Equatorial Guinea.
Equatorial Guinea came through the Afcon 2023 qualifying looking imperious, even beating Tunisia. Well-organised and physically imposing National Thunder are a bigger threat to Namibia than Tunisia and are not to be underestimated. They are ranked 19th in Africa, eight places higher than Namibia, and like the Tafel Lager Brave Warriors, have also qualified for the 2023 Afcon competition.
Interestingly, Equatorial Guinea was in the same group as Tunisia during this year’s Afcon qualifiers, and after a 4-0 drubbing in Tunis, they bounced back in style, going on a four-match winning streak which included beating Tunisia 1-0 in Malabo.
So, to cut a long story short, Namibia needs to be in top form to beat Equatorial Guinea and then hoping for an ounce of lady luck against Tunisia. Then we can start talking. For now, we hope.
Hope is consequential. The Tafel Lager Brave Warriors need not drop points at any given time and hope to pull up another shock result, a replica of the Afcon qualifiers against Cameroon this year. Besides, Tunisia despite being favourites, are palatable. I remember in 2007 with Ben Bamfuchile, we held the Carthage Eagles until two late goals in the second half in Rades. If the traditional adage, fortune favours the brave is to hold water, then anything can happen after all, this is football.
FIFA World Cup 2026 African Groups
GROUP A Egypt, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Djibouti
GROUP B Senegal, Congo DR, Mauritania, Togo, Sudan, South Sudan
GROUP C Nigeria, South Africa, Benin, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Lesotho
GROUP D Cameroon, Cape Verde, Angola, Libya, Eswatini, Mauritius
GROUP E Morocco, Zambia, Congo, Tanzania, Niger, Eritrea
GROUP F Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, The Gambia, Burundi, Seychelles
GROUP G Algeria, Guinea, Uganda, Mozambique, Botswana, Somalia
GROUP H Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Malawi, Liberia, Sao Tome e Principe
GROUP I Mali, Ghana, Madagascar, Central African Republic, Comoros, Cha