Lesotho leads giants as 2026 World Cup qualifiers heat up

Lesotho’s Crocodiles are leading Group C, which includes continental giants South Africa and Nigeria, along with Zimbabwe. These fierce football battles are happening across the CAF confederation as teams vie to fill Africa’s nine spots in the 2026 World Cup.

Oliver Ochieng

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) region 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier matches are well on course with different African countries fighting to secure tickets to the 2026 World Cup to be hosted jointly by the US, Mexico and Canada.

Against all odds, minnows, Lesotho are setting the pace in group C as heavyweights Nigeria and South Africa continue to battle to find their footing. The Crocodiles secured an important 2-0 away victory over Zimbabwe to go top of the group, in one of the many ‘March Day Three’ qualifiers played across the continent on Friday.

Rethabile Rasethuntsa opened the scoresheet for Lesotho in the 21st minute, before Thaba Ntso doubled their lead 10 minutes later. They lead the group with 5 points, one ahead of second and third placed Rwanda and Benin respectively.

A repeat of the 2024 TotalEnergies CAF Africa Cup of Nations Côte d’Ivoire 2023 semi-final between Nigeria and South Africa ended in 1-1 draw, in Uyo, Nigeria. Themba Zwane gave Bafana Bafana the lead in the 29th minute, before Fisayo Dele-Bashiru levelized for the Super Eagles just seconds into the second half.

South Africa is 4th on the log with 4 points, while the Nigerians are 5th with a paltry 3 points after three rounds of matches. Zimbabwe is at the bottom of the group with 2 points.  

In group A, Egypt seems to be doing everything right to be at the World Cup. Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has led The Pharaohs to collect maximum points from three games, the latest win being Thursday’s 2-1 against Burkina Faso in Cairo.

The Egyptians got off to a flying start, thanks to an early brace by Mahmoud Trézéguet in the opening 10 minutes. Lassina Traoré got the consolation for the Stallions as the game grew on.

In group B, a late equaliser by Fiston Mayele salvaged a point for the DRC against former African champions Senegal, in Dakar. Ismaila Sarr had given the Teranga Lions what seemed to be the winner, but a spirited fight by Leopards saw them make an impressive comeback to snatch a point.

Action in group E saw Morocco beat Chipolopolo of Zambia 2-1 to cement the Atlas Lion’s position at the top. An early penalty conversion by Hakim Ziyech gave his side an early lead in the opening minutes of the match. In the second half, Eliesse Ben Seghir doubled the North Africans’ lead, before a goal by Edward Chilufya reduced the deficit for Zambia.

In Group F, the Elephants of Ivory Coast are determined to grace the global soccer bonanza in 2026, having miraculously become African Champions this year.

Seko Fofana’s solitary goal was enough to see the reigning African champions secure a slim win over Gabon, and maintain their winning streak in the group. That was a third win out of three games, maintaining the 100% record.

Here are the collated results from the qualifier action:

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Algeria 1 vs 2 Guinea

Senegal 1 vs 1 DRC

Mali 1 vs 2 Ghana

Egypt 2 vs 1 Burkina Faso

Benin 1 vs 0 Rwanda

Friday, June 07, 2024

Mozambique 2 vs 1 Somalia

Kenya 1 vs 1 Burundi

Uganda 1 vs 0 Botswana

Nigeria 1 vs 1 South Africa

Morocco 2 vs 1 Zambia

Ivory Coast 1 vs 0 Gabon

The final round-three matches will be played on Saturday, June 08, 2024. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon will host Cape Verde in Yaoundé in a group D encounter, while The Gambia will host Seychelles in a group F fixture.

A win for Cameroon will propel them to the summit of the group with 7 points, albeit on a goal difference. Libya is currently ahead in the group with 7 points.

Round-four matches come up on 9th, 10th and 11th June, 2024, before the qualifiers take a break until March 2025. The Africa zone qualifiers for the 26 FIFA World Cup began on 13 November 2023 and will end in November 2025.

Nine African teams are guaranteed to compete in the World Cup. Another will participate in the FIFA play-off tournament. The African qualifiers will be played across two rounds. The first will be contested in the form of a group stage, with nine groups of six teams each. Each team will play two matches, home and away, against each of their opponents. The top finisher in each group will qualify for World Cup 26.

The second round will witness the meeting of the four best runners-up in two one-off semi-finals, followed by a final. The second round winner will participate in the FIFA play-off tournament to make it 10 African teams if the particular team wins the play-off.