Who were the continent’s star performers during the weekend’s qualifiers?
John Ogu has endured something of a frustrating recent revival with the national side. Discarded by previous managers, he’s been recalled to the fold by Gernot Rohr, but has spend the recent international breaks watching on from the substitutes bench.
He didn’t disappoint, and capped of an authoritative, composed midfield display with the Super Eagles’ opener.
It’s a performance that should dispel any suggestions that Ogu might miss the cut for Russia, and might even persuade Rohr to consider him for a starting spot.
Patson Daka: While Zambia were denied victory over Cameroon at the death due to Yaya Banana’s late equaliser, the Chipolopolo ended their campaign in style with a delicious attacking display.
The emergence of Brian Mwila and 19-year-old Daka have been two of the great subplots of this qualifying campaign, and the latter delivered another star turn this weekend.
First, he netted Zambia’s opener, and then, just after the hour mark, combined joyously with Mwila to set up the Platinum Stars frontman for the hosts’ second.
This was the kind of technical sophistication that we haven’t seen – at least not this cohesively – form recent Zambian sides, and while the Copper Bullets may not be heading to the World Cup, the future looks bright.
Edwin Gyasi certainly impressed on his maiden start for the Black Stars, delivering an accomplished all-round performance and netting the deflected equaliser as Ghana drew 1-1 with Egypt in Cape Coast.
The Aalesund FK attacker only made his international debut in the recent 5-1 victory over Congo-Brazzaville in September, but looked as though he was a seasoned international by using the ball intelligently, playing in team mates with his astute delivery and beating his man on several occasions.
Gyasi did enough to suggest that he could be one of the key building blocks for Kwesi Appiah’s new Ghanaian side.
Shikabala is one of the most talented North African players of his generation, with sublime technique and the confidence to execute some more audacious moves.
However, his application has been questioned, and too often he’s drifted in and out of games – decorating them occasionally but not making enough in the way of a consistent contribution.
With Mohamed Salah absent, the Al-Raed FC man was restored to the side and revelled in the playmaking role. Now 31, experience appears to have curved his more individualistic play of the past, and after a strong showing – complete with a sensational opener – he will fancy his chances of making the plane to Russia.
Medhi Benatia: While a trip to Abidjan should – on paper – have been Morocco’s toughest assignment of the group stage campaign, they eased into Russia fairly comfortably after netting twice in five first-half minutes.
Against a dismal team, however, they still needed to stymie any Ivorian hopes of a renaissance, and as well as scoring the decisive second goal, Benatia was a rock at the back throughout the encounter.
He organised those around him effectively, and was quick to snuff out the forays forward of the likes of Gervinho, Wilfried Zaha and Serge Aurier.
Remarkably, Morocco didn’t concede a single goal during their entire World Cup qualifying campaign, and with Benatia in the heart of the backline, they’ll be tough to break down next summer.