Zimbabwe sweat on Billiat as Africa starts World Cup journey
Khama Billiat is a serious doubt for Zimbabwe's 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying opener against Somalia this week, and he's but one of many injuries littering rosters.
The Kaizer Chiefs forward picked up a pelvic injury in the club's 2-1 win away to Cape Town City last week, and Chiefs' front office is not being overly verbose about it: "He has had a scan done and it is unclear how long he needs to recover at this stage."
While Chiefs may not worry too much about Billiat's impending national match, the Warriors faithful will certainly feel the absence of their star player when they come up against Somalia on Thursday.
But stand-in coach Joey Antipas is not too concerned with Billiat's absence as he looks to flood new players into the team.: "We are trying new players who we think can bring results for the team.
"We are a nation seeking to succeed in the field of play so we had to look for those players who are in top form for this game against Somalia. We are anticipating a tough match but we have to do our best to proceed to the next stage.
"We have qualified for the AFCON several times and we are now eying the World Cup so we cannot afford to experiment. We are going there in full force and hopefully we will get a result."
Will Adebayor's absence be felt by Togo?
While the likes of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Riyad Mahrez will only enter Africa's World Cup qualifying campaign next year, Emmanuel Adebayor is a notable omission from the Togolese squad that will face Comoros over two legs.
A prominent member of the Sparrow-hawks side that qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, the former Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur forward recently completed a move to Turkish Super Lig club Kayserispor, but Adebayor has now been booted from the international team.
Might this be a massive mistake by Togolese manager Claude Le Roy, who also notably left out Jacques-Alaixys Romao, who plays for French Ligue 1 club Reims? Only time will tell, with Togo facing Comoros on Saturday.
Long Walk To Qatar
Africa's long journey to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar officially gets underway this Wednesday with a total of 28 matches scattered across the continent for the proceeding six days.
The first round of qualifying is meant to separate the wheat from the chaff with 14 nations' World Cup dreams coming to an abrupt end before it almost even started.
All 54 FIFA-affiliated football associations from the Confederations of African Football (CAF) enter the qualification rounds, with Libya and Sierra Leone having dodged possible expulsion.
Libya was threatened from exclusion from the qualifiers all together due to debts owned to former coach Javier Clemente, but with those debts now settled they can look forward to a second round showdown against a to-be-determined nation.
Sierre-Leone were also playing with fire due to suspension of their football association, however those sanctions were lifted back in June allowing them the chance to battle for a place in the second round.
Change In Format
CAF announced a change in format in build-up to qualification for the 2022 showpiece, reverting back to a more traditional approach.
Instead of two knockout rounds to kick-off the qualifying campaign, there will be a knockout stage before and after a group stage with 10 teams advancing to the third and final round of which the five winners will advance to the World Cup.
Thus, nations ranked 27-54 will play home-and-away over two legs with the 14 winners advancing onto the second round.
From there, 40 teams (nations ranked 1-26 and 14 first round winners) advance into the second round which will be divided into 10 groups of four teams each to play home-and-away round-robin fixtures.
The 10 group winners will advance onto the third round where the five aggregate victors over home-and-away matches will officially book their ticket to Qatar. The qualifying campaign will officially come to an end on the 16th of November 2021.
From Eritrea And Somalia To Zimbabwe And Co.
Zimbabwe are the unlucky nation ranked 27th on the continent at the start of the qualification process, meaning they narrowly missed out on a bye to the second round.
The Warriors qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, but were unable to crack into the top half of the continent and duly formed part of the 28 teams vying for a place in the second round.
Somalia and Eritrea enter the first round as the lowest ranked countries on the African continent, tied at 202nd in the world. At the other end of the scale, 2019 Afcon runners-up Senegal top the charts at 20th on the world while champions Algeria come in at fourth on the continent.
Only 5 Will Fly Africa's Flag In Qatar
Since 1998 in France, Africa have had at least five representatives at the world showpiece, with the exception the 2010 FIFA World Cup, hosted in South Africa, when the continent had six.
Only on three previous occasions have African teams reached the quarter-final stage at the World Cup, and never the semi-finals nor final. The last nation to reach the last eight were Ghana at the 2010 showpiece.
Cameroon have qualified for the most World Cup tournaments, seven, followed by Nigeria with six.
Only 13 African nations have qualified for the World Cup in it's history, dating back to Egypt's first-round exit at the 1934 event in Italy.
Full List of first-leg first round fixtures:
Ethiopia vs Lesotho
Eritrea vs Namibia
Burundi vs Tanzania
Djibouti vs eSwatini
Liberia vs Sierre Leone
Mauritius vs Mozambique
South Sudan vs Equatorial Guinea
Sao Tome and Principe vs Guinea-Bissau
Somalia vs Zimbabwe
Chad vs Sudan
Seychelles vs Rwanda
Gambia vs Angola
Comoros vs Togo
Botswana vs Malawi