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World Cup playoffs provide a Salah vs Mané sequel

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (AP) – Africa’s World Cup playoffs will serve up a Mohamed Salah vs Sadio Mané sequel as the Liverpool teammates face off on opposite sides again with their countries, for a place at football’s biggest show.

Salah’s Egypt will face Mané’s Senegal in one of the continent’s five decisive World Cup playoffs, with the first leg in Cairo early tomorrow (3.30am Brunei time).

Egypt vs Senegal headlines the playoffs, but there’s also a big West African derby pitting Ghana against Nigeria, along with three other playoffs to decide Africa’s five teams at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.

All the first legs are early tomorrow and the second legs early on Wednesday.

EGYPT VS SENEGAL

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp recognised the significance of the game when he rested Mané for Sunday’s FA Cup quarterfinal because Salah was already out with a minor injury.

Klopp didn’t want one to have more rest than the other ahead of the crucial meeting.

Unsurprisingly, Senegal coach Aliou Cisse largely kept faith with the players that became African champions in Cameroon. Egypt coach Carlos Queiroz challenged Salah and his teammates to succeed this time “because there is no room for sorrys or tomorrows”.

Liverpool’s Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah will face off against each other early tomorrow in their national teams. PHOTOS: AP

GHANA VS NIGERIA

Four-time African champion and former World Cup quarterfinalist Ghana is in damage control following an embarrassing group-stage exit at the African Cup at the hands of tiny Comoros.

Ghana has new leadership in head coach Otto Addo and technical advisor Chris Hughton. It’s also without captain Andre Ayew because of his red card in that loss to Comoros.

Ghana must beat a resurgent Nigeria to get to the World Cup. Nigeria was at times impressive at the African Cup and has been strengthened by the return of strikers Victor Osimhen and Odion Ighalo, who were both unavailable for that tournament.

CAMEROON VS ALGERIA

Like Ghana, Algeria has to restore its reputation after a dire defence of its African title in Cameroon, when it exited bottom of its group without winning a game. Veteran striker Baghdad Bounedjah and midfielder Yassine Brahimi have been dropped from the squad by coach Djamel Belmadi.

Cameroon is now coached by former national captain Rigobert Song. Their buildup has been complicated by goalkeeper André Onana’s involvement in a serious car crash this week – he was unhurt – and the unavailability of key midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa because of injury.

CONGO VS MOROCCO

Congo could be the story of the playoffs if it surprises Morocco to reach the World Cup for the first time since its only previous appearance at the 1974 tournament in West Germany as Zaire.

The team is led by experienced Argentine coach Héctor Cúper and can call on former Belgium youth player Théo Bongonda after the winger switched allegiance to his parents’ country of birth in January.

Morocco is the clear favourite to advance even without Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, who has turned down a recall because of his ongoing feud with coach Vahid Hallihodzic.

MALI VS TUNISIA

Mali is the only one of the 10 playoff contenders to have never played at a World Cup before.

It has now been able to call up two former France under-21 players in Eintracht Frankfurt defender Almamy Touré and Everton midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré against Tunisia.

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