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Which African team will go furthest at the World Cup?

For perhaps the first time, Africa will send a five-team contingent to the World Cup confident that all of the quintet will be able to hold their own, and each are in with a good chance of advancing past the group stage.

This hasn't always been the case, as historically, the continent has sent representatives who simply lack the quality to compete at the global showpiece - see Togo or Angola - or who have been too racked by internal turmoil to focus on the task at hand - see Ghana or Cameroon.

Even truly talented sides such as the Ivory Coast's Golden Generation have had glaring weaknesses that threatened - from the off - to undermine them on the grandest stage.

This time, however, there are genuine reasons for optimism for all of the continent's representatives, but which of them stands in the best stead to reach the final eight or even break Africa's glass ceiling at the tournament and make the semi finals?

For a start, Friday's draw will make things a lot clearer, as many underwhelming teams have snaked through to the knockouts at the World Cup by virtue of being pooled in a more accommodating group.

Conversely, talented sides have been halted in their tracks by an ominous first-round draw; just how far could the Nigeria team in 2002 have gone in Japan and South Korea if they hadn't been pitted alongside Argentina, England and Sweden in Round One?

Similarly, four years later, the Ivory Coast were welcomed into their first World Cup with a group containing the Netherlands, Argentina and Serbia-Montenegro...a veritable baptism of fire.

As usual, the odds will inevitably shift significantly depending on the outcome of Friday's draw, and the quarter finals will begin to feel far further away for any side unfortunate enough to be pooled along with any of the big boys in Pot 2.

Even before the draw kicks off, Senegal, Egypt and Tunisia find themselves with an advantage over Nigeria and Morocco as they will begin Friday's ceremony in Pot 3 rather than Pot 4 by virtue of their superior FIFA ranking.

Despite being up against it from the off, perhaps the two sides in Pot 4 are - counter-intuitively - the best prepared to reach the final eight or beyond.

Morocco, notably, are a superbly organised outfit, who defend excellently - they didn't concede a single goal during qualification - and understand the nuances of gamesmanship when the occasion calls for it.

Herve Renard and the Atlas Lions play to each others strengths, and when they need to kill time, get gritty, or employ the dark arts to overcome a tricky spell in a game, they typically do so with some success.

The French coach's philosophy has always been to build a watertight defensive unit and then to allow a handful of allocated artists the license to create and attack upon that.

At the Africa Cup of Nations, his schema fell down due to a paucity of attacking options, however, with Khalid Boutaib in-form and the irresistible Hakim Ziyech recalled, Renard is beginning to fashion an offensive unit that could see Morocco out of the group stage.

Elsewhere, Nigeria cannot be overlooked, and not simply because of their 4-2 come-from-behind triumph over Argentina during the last international break.

This young Super Eagles squad continue to improve under the tutelage of Gernot Rohr; they're unified, and confidence is high after they swept all before them in qualifying from the Group of Death.

A 3-1 victory over Algeria and a 4-0 rout of Africa's champions Cameroon were startling indications of the firepower in this team, and with key figures such as Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi and Wilfred Ndidi only set to get better, they could be a fearsome prospect next summer.

Certainly, nobody will want to have Nigeria picked out from Pot. 4 when it's their group's turn to be completed.

Despite the optimism in the camp, the West African giants aren't a complete side yet, and concerns remain at full-back and, notably, in goal.

Senegal and Egypt have stark similarities and notable differences, and the way they can highlight their strengths and protect their weaknesses will be key to their hopes of progress.

Both boast one outstanding individual - Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah - who can be considered a genuine continental superstar and can trouble any of the defences set to compete next summer.

On paper, the Lions of Teranga have the support for Mane and can boast a particularly deep squad, but coach Aliou Cisse hasn't always convinced that he knows how to organise his myriad attacking options in order to get the best out of them.

They were notably frustrated (and subsequently eliminated) by Cameroon during the Nations Cup, and failed to find the net at home against Burkina Faso during qualifying.

Egypt, by contrast, can hardly be faulted for a conservative tactical approach that has seen them reach a maiden World Cup since 1990, but they remain one dimensional and overly reliant on Salah.

The Reds attacker scored five of their eight goals in qualifying - only two other players scored - and if the Pharaohs go behind or Salah is neutralised, they can run out of ideas.

The reintroduction of the enigmatic Shikabala suggests that Hector Cuper is keen to redress this problem.

Finally, Tunisia, perhaps the team of whom the least is expected this summer.

The Carthage Eagles will be tough to break down in Russia, and they have both character and the the creativity to trouble teams.

However, it remains to be seen whether they have enough quality across the board to escape from the group stage.

Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.

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