Group E: Rwanda, Uganda, Mali, Kenya
The Eagles of Mali are the overwhelming favourites to advance in a group that has some of the lowest ranked teams in Africa competing for a place in the final stage of the World Cup Qualifiers. Mali is ranked 60th in the world and 10th in Africa, making them the highest ranked team in group E. Mali’s pedigree in African football cannot be overlooked as they reached the 1972 African Nations Cup Final, but lost 3–2 to Congo. They however failed to qualify for the AFCON Final until 1994 when they reached the Semi-finals, an achievement repeated in 2002, 2004 and 2012. Despite their heroics in the AFCON Tournaments the Eagles have struggled over the years to make a World Cup berth. Mali played their first ever World Cup Qualifier match in 2000.
On 27th March 2005, riots broke out in Bamako after Mali lost 2-1 to Togo in a World Cup Qualifier on a last-minute goal. Seydou Keita is the country’s most capped player (102 games) and also the all-time top scorer with 25 goals.
Abdoulay Diaby of Anderlecht, striker Moussa Marega of Al-Hilal and Captain Molla Wagué are some of their key players expected to help them progress to the final phase of Qualifiers.
The Amavubi of Rwanda will start their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with an away game against Mali. Coach Vincent Mashami’s side have never qualified for the World Cup, but they will be hoping to have a better campaign after failing to make it to the Africa Cup of Nations Tournament in Cameroon. Rwanda finished third with 6 points while Cameroon and Cape Verde made it to the final. Amavubi reached the group stages after edging out Seychelles 10-0 on aggregate in the preliminary round last October.
Rwanda is currently ranked 127th in the world and 35th in Africa. In an audacious attempt to do the unthinkable, Former Gor Mahia forwards Meddie Kagere and Jacques Tuyisenge have all been included in Rwanda’s 39-man squad for World Cup Qualifiers against Mali and Kenya. Haruna Niyonzima remains the most capped player with 107 matches while Olivier Karekezi is the country’s top scorer with 24 goals. These two key players are part of Rwanda’s squad for the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers.
The Cranes of Uganda are one of Africa’s emerging football forces in recent times. They are ranked 16th in Africa and 84th in the world. During the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign, the Cranes defeated Egypt at home to boost their prospects, but a defeat in Alexandria denied them a place in the last edition. If they can improve away from home then they may be on the brink of finally ending East Africa’s wait for a World Cup berth.
The cranes have appeared 7 times in the Africa cup of nations but have failed to qualify for the world cup. Coach Milutin Sredojevic has some fine talents at his disposal as they look to become the first East African country to qualify for the World Cup. Uganda will be relying on captain Emmanuel Arnold Okwi who is the country’s top scorer (26 goals) and also Godfrey Walusimbi who remains the most capped player, having played 105 matches for the Cranes.
The Harambee Stars of Kenya have competed in 6 Africa Cup of Nations Tournaments but never reached the second round. The team entered the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for the first time in 1974. FIFA suspended Kenya from all football activities for 3-months in 2004, due to government interference in their football activities. The ban was overturned after the country agreed to create new statutes. On 25 October 2006, Kenya was suspended again from international football for failing to fulfil a January 2006 agreement made to resolve recurrent problems in their Football Federation. Kenya qualified for the 2019 AFCON which was their first appearance in the tournament since the 2004 Edition.
A side that has never qualified for the World Cup reached the second round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers where they were bundled out by Cape Verde on a 2-1 aggregate score line. The Harambee Stars will start their campaign to Qatar under Coach Jacob Mulee with a home game against rivals Uganda. Kenya is ranked 23rd in Africa and 104th in the world. 30-year-old Victor Wanyama is the skipper of the Harambee Stars. His experience is expected to play a key role in their campaign.