Liverpool star Mohamed Salah will be a notable absentee due to coronavirus travel restrictions when the group phase of qualifying in Africa for the 2022 World Cup finally kicks off on Wednesday.
Salah plays for Egypt, who are on the United Kingdom travel ‘red list’, and he would have to quarantine for 10 days when he returns from his homeland, sidelining him for four fixtures.
Both world body FIFA and African confederation CAF have pleaded, without success, for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to exempt African footballers on World Cup duty.
Stars in other European countries could also be affected as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc with an African group schedule that has already been delayed three times.
Here, AFP Sport looks at the 10 four-team groups and which countries may reach the final qualifying stage.
Group A As if facing African champions Algeria, who are unbeaten in 27 matches since November 2018, was not sufficiently intimidating, rivals Burkina Faso, Niger and Djibouti are barred from playing at home.
All must use neutral venues because their stadium facilities and/or pitch does not meet international standards, making Riyad Mahrez-captained Algeria hot favourites to advance.
Group B Wahbi Khazri-led Tunisia are among the most successful African countries when it comes to World Cup qualifying, reaching the finals five times.
They will face tough opposition on visits to resurgent Zambia, rising Mauritania and improving Equatorial Guinea, but it would be a shock if they did not finish first.—APP