- Africa's representation rises from five to nine direct places in 2026 which provides an extra incentive during qualification, which runs until October 2025.
- Nigeria, aiming for a seventh World Cup appearance, are without injured stars Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze.
Africa's marathon 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign kicks off November 15, with 40 nations vying for the continent's nine automatic final spots in North America.
The continent's gruelling road to the World Cup is often described as the most arduous in football as exciting home fans add some attraction to the tough qualifying matches.
But with Fifa expanding the finals to 48 teams, Africa's representation rises from five to nine direct places in 2026 which provides an extra incentive during qualification, which runs until October 2025.
Africa's trailblazers in Qatar, received a bye this week after Eritrea withdrew before their scheduled meeting.
That postpones the return of World Cup stars like Achraf Hakimi and Youssef En-Nesyri until next week Tuesday when they take on Tanzania.
The Atlas Lions stunned Belgium, Spain and Portugal en route to the semi-finals of the World Cup last year to become the first African side to reach the last four of the global competition.
As Africa's World Cup hopefuls embark on the long road to the 2026 World Cup, giants like Nigeria, Ghana and African champions Senegal are eager to impress.
Nigeria, aiming for a seventh World Cup appearance, are without injured stars Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze for games against Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
But Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro can still call on quality replacements, including Victor Boniface and Taiwo Awoniyi. Concerns persist over goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, however.
Elsewhere, Ghana coach Chris Hughton is under pressure ahead of matches against Madagascar and Comoros. Veteran midfielder Andre Ayew returns to help after the Black Stars' recent heavy defeat by the USA.
Continent champions Senegal, spearheaded by Sadio Mane, enter the fray next week. The 2022 quarter-finalists shape as serious contenders to go deep again in 2026.
Cameroon, Africa's most regular World Cup participants with eight appearances, start their campaign against minnows Mauritius before facing Libya.
Elsewhere, Zimbabwe return from a year-long Fifa suspension for government interference to face Rwanda on Wednesday.
However, Zimbabwe are among 19 sides prohibited from hosting home qualifiers in substandard stadiums.
The likes of Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia and Somalia will also play 'home' fixtures at neutral venues. Zimbabwe takes on regional rivals Nigeria in Rwanda this weekend.
With only nine group winners advancing to the finals, plus one playoff spot, the stakes are high from Matchday One.
For Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and company, conquering the continent represents the first step towards World Cup glory in North America. Their two-year quest starts on Wednesday.