May 23, 2016
The next two weeks are crucial to Egypt’s 2018 World Cup qualifying success.
The Pharaohs’ qualifying campaign will ultimately be decided most by performance, but the next few weeks will determine who Egypt plays and how difficult its group will be.
May 29, 30 and June 4 specifically are dates that will determine Egypt’s seeding fate.
May 29 – Kenya vs. Tanzania (friendly)
While some, including myself, believe Egypt may have been better suited ignoring this match, it technically can have an impact on Egypt’s seeding prospects. If Tanzania loses, Egypt’s June 4 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against the Taifa Stars wouldn’t be worth as much. It would have meant that Egypt no longer controls its own destiny for a top-seed (Pot A). As a result, Egypt scheduled a match of its own just-in-case Kenya beats Tanzania.
According to several unofficial calculations, if Tanzania and Kenya draw, Egypt may still nip Tunisia for the top seed – assuming wins for both Egypt and Tunisia in AFCON qualifying – by a fraction of a point.
May 30 – Egypt vs. Congo DR (friendly)
This match was scheduled as a reaction to the Tanzania vs. Kenya friendly. The idea behind it is that it would compensate for whatever negative point differential is caused in the FIFA Ranking if Tanzania succumbs to Kenya. It offers Egypt a chance to cancel out the Tanzania result should it adversely affect them. However, it also creates another must-win for Egypt, in addition to the June 4 contest in Tanzania. What if Tanzania beats or even ties Kenya? Suddenly this becomes an unnecessary, pressure-packed event.
The solution? If Tanzania beats Kenya (or draws, if unofficial calculations are correct) the day before, Egypt should cancel this match at all costs. Whatever fees it would owe Congo DR or fines it would incur would be worth it, because canceling the match would be as good as a win. In this case, Egypt would just need to beat Tanzania away on June 4 (a difficult enough task as it is) to earn a top seed.
June 4 – Tanzania vs. Egypt (2017 AFCON qualifier)
This is a must-win for Egypt, but it becomes irrelevant if Egypt fails to defeat Congo DR on May 30. Again, if the Kenya-Tanzania result goes Egypt’s way, Egypt should immediately cancel its friendly with Congo DR scheduled for the following day, as difficult as that may be.
Other relevant matches
Tunisia and Cape Verde are also alive for a top-seed, but only one of the three – counting Egypt – will get it. Both will be playing minnows – Djibouti and São Tomé and Príncipe respectively – so it should be assumed that Tunisia and Cape Verde will both win, forcing Egypt to have to defeat Tanzania.
Did you get all that?
The official seeds will be announced by FIFA June 8-10.
The draw for the group stage of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying will be held June 24.