With the recent Africa Cup of Nations finals still fresh in the memory, it seems odd to be talking about the next tournament in two years’ time already, but when your interest is in the weakest of teams, qualifying can start early.
The next AFCON tournament has included a preliminary qualifying round to ensure the numbers for the main group stage of qualifying are even. And so six unfortunates have to play home and away clashes to remove three nations from qualifying.
Out of the three African nations stuck at the foot of the world rankings currently, neither Somalia or Eritrea have entered the tournament which is a real shame. Eritrea’s omission can be more understood since they frequently seem to lose half a squad as asylum seekers whenever they travel abroad, but Somalia is less understandable given they are set to play two friendly matches in April against South Sudan – one of their potential opponents at this stage. This shows they are active as a national team, but Somalia is a country currently dealing with a famine crisis – entering a football tournament won’t be high on their list of priorities right now.
We can speculate as to the whys and wherefores, but the fact remains that they aren’t taking part, which leaves us with Djibouti. Their recent preparation matches against Burundi have resulted in two defeats of varying degrees, but now they are set to take on the aforementioned South Sudan over two legs for a place in the main qualifying group stage.
The two sides have met once before, and that too was a Worst in the World match back in December 2015 when Djibouti had only recently hit rock bottom in the FIFA rankings. That was in the 2015 edition of the CECAFA Cup in what was the first of Djibouti’s three group stage matches.
On that day, South Sudan ran out comfortable 2-0 winners for what was only their second ever win as a FIFA member. That competition was a relatively successful one for South Sudan, who topped the group with two wins and a draw, only to lose out on penalties in the quarter-final against near neighbours, and former bedfellows, Sudan.
Whoever comes through this particular double-header can look forward with some trepidation to what will be waiting for them in the main group stage of qualification. The winner will join Mali, Gabon and Burundi (recent winners over Djibouti) in group C, with only the group winners guaranteed a place in the Finals, set for Cameroon in two years’ time.
South Sudan, like Somalia, is of course in the news for other, rather less trivial matter at the moment. The ongoing and worsening catastrophic famine is an ever-present on the nightly news.
Without wanting to trivialise or delve into that disaster, it remains to be seen whether the domestic problems that South Sudan faces has a detrimental effect on their team in these two games.
At the very least it would be nice if Djibouti could manage to score a goal. If a positive result could follow on the back of that, it wold be a real bonus.