What's next for Nigeria, and mighty Morocco, in WC qualifying?

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We've witnessed a pulsating week of international football in Africa, with some of the continent's giants taking major steps towards the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and a few would-be 'minnows' putting themselves firmly in contention.

Here are the biggest stories from the week of World Cup qualifying, and an overview of how things stand for the heavyweights and the hopefuls.

Rohr haunts Nigeria

Group C is the most compelling of the nine groups, with Africa Cup of Nations finalists Nigeria winless after four matches to sit fifth.

Under newly appointed head coach Finidi George, they were held 1-1 by South Africa in Uyo, Nigeria, where none of the Super Eagles' vaunted attacking options stood up to replace the injured Victor Osimhen, before meeting a familiar face in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Monday.

Benin head coach Gernot Rohr, one of African football's elder statesmen at 70, spent the best part of five years at the helm of the Super Eagles, between 2016 and 2021, taking them to the 2018 FIFA World Cup before reaching the AFCON semifinals in 2019. He was unceremoniously dismissed ahead of the 2021 Nations Cup, with few in Nigeria mourning his exit, and was without a managerial post before being appointed by Benin last year.

No one will have enjoyed the Leopards' shock 2-1 victory over their neighbours more than Rohr, with a fine Jodel Dossou goal cancelling out Raphael Onyedika's opener before Steve Mounié secured maximum points. This was Benin's first victory over their nearby rivals, and Rohr will surely have taken great delight in downing his former employers.

For the Super Eagles, a stuttering start to the campaign leaves George under pressure only months into his new role.

"We can turn this around," George said in his post-match press conference. "It's difficult, but we have to start winning games. Once we do, then everything is possible in football."

Atlas Lions still perfect

Morocco alone of the 53 teams contesting the African World Cup qualifying group stage still enjoy a 100% record as we approach the halfway stage; testament, perhaps, to the increasing quality of the continent's traditionally less-heralded sides but also the failings among the would-be giants.

The 2022 World Cup semifinalists have played one match fewer than the other top dogs after Eritrea withdrew from the campaign before the group stage began, but they've still caught the eye in crushing poor Congo 6-0 at home in Agadir.

Ayoub El Kaabi, whose goals fired Olympiacos to the UEFA Europa Conference League title, netted a 23-minute hat-trick, with Barcelona wunderkind Chadi Riad, who made his debut only in January, bagging his first international goal.

Rwanda sitting pretty, Lesotho win big

While Nigeria labour close to the foot of Group C, Rwanda and Lesotho are dreaming of an utterly unexpected berth at the global showpiece.

Rwanda, who have qualified for just one AFCON, let alone the World Cup, are the unlikely pacesetters, having defeated Lesotho 1-0 in Durban, South Africa, to have seven points after four matches.

Ranked No. 131 in the world, the Wasps have impressed since the autumn arrival of German coach Torsten Spittler, and they would be in an even stronger position had they not lost 1-0 to Benin in match week three.

Lesotho may have been defeated by Rwanda, but they will definitely look back on a successful international break after defeating Zimbabwe 2-0 in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday. They've never made the AFCON, but sit just two points off the group leaders after after goals from Rethabile Rasethuntsa and top scorer Jane Thabantso secured their first away victory in World Cup qualifying. For context, this was just Lesotho's third victory in 39 qualifiers dating back to 1972.

Mauritius end two-decade wait

Mauritius, another one of the continent's lesser lights, also enjoyed an international break to remember as they dispatched Eswatini 2-1 with first-half goals from Mike Gaspard and Lindsay Rose.

Eswatini, formerly know as Swaziland, aren't among African football's most fearsome side, but they were nonetheless ranked 35 places above Mauritius, for whom this victory was their first in World Cup qualifying since they defeated Uganda in 2003.

Ghana restore some pride but still eclipsed by Comoros

Ghana were arguably the biggest losers at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, the Black Stars enduring a disastrous tournament that led to significant supporter backlash and prompted the dismissal of head coach Chris Hughton.

His successor, Otto Addo, appeared to have his work cut out to restore the Black Stars to the pinnacle of the continental game, but they'll be delighted to have claimed two wins from two games in this international break, particularly after falling to the Comoros Islands in a November qualifier.

Jordan Ayew netted four goals across the international break -- a 94th-minute winner against Mali and a hat-trick against Central African Republic -- as Addo sought to blend experienced campaigners such as the striker and the returning Thomas Partey with the youth of Fatawu Issahaku, Mohammed Kudus and Kamaldeen Sulemana.

Ghana still have work to do if they are to qualify, with the Comoros -- ranked No, 117 in the world -- leading Group I on goal difference after defeating Chad in neutral Morocco on Tuesday, but, should they succeed, the Black Stars could be one of Africa's most exciting representatives in two years' time if Addo gets the balance right.

Tuanzebe, Capradossi headline new arrivals

Congo DR fans continue to wait for the debut of Manchester United full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, but former Red Devils defender Axel Tuanzebe made his entrance to international football this week.

The Ipswich Town man went straight into the Leopards' starting XI for the 1-1 draw with Senegal -- forging an encouraging partnership with Chancel Mbemba, while Red Star Belgrade hotshot Cherif Ndiaye replaced Nicolas Jackson for his Teranga Lions debut -- and then helped to keep a clean sheet in the 1-0 victory over Togo.

There weren't too many players more impressive than Elio Capradossi, who swapped Italy for Uganda after captaining the Europeans at under-20 level, and excelled in the 1-0 victory against Botswana.

He also held his own against a talented Algeria side -- albeit Uganda lost 2-1 -- catching the eye with his authority, composure and interceptions.

Ghana duo Ibrahim Sulemana and Brandon Thomas-Asante also came off the bench for their Black Stars debuts.

Appiah inspires Sudan in front of Infantino

FIFA chief Gianni Infantino witnessed history on Tuesday, when South Sudan hosted Sudan in the first competitive fixture between the sides after the former's independence in 2011 amid an extended civil war.

Played at the newly refurbished national stadium in Juba, Sudan cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory to give some succour to their supporters back home, who are entering the second year of another devastating armed conflict.

"The war in Sudan has affected everything, including sports," South Sudan government advisor Tut Gatluak said before the match. "And with it being played here, it sends out positive signals of commitment to continuing to raise the flag of Sudan and play with others. This means peace and stability."

The win represented a personal victory for ex-Ghana boss Kwesi Appiah, now at the helm of the Falcons of Jeddiane, who have won six of their past seven matches and sit atop Group B.

Auba returns

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned to international duty for Gabon as they lost 1-0 to Ivory Coast away in Korhogo on Saturday, but he enjoyed better fortune as the Panthers defeated Gambia 3-2 at home in Franceville on Wednesday.

Aubameyang netted Gabon's second goal and the hosts eventually won after an extended delay caused by a power cut that plunged Stade de Franceville into darkness.

Gabon sit second in Group F, one point behind Ivory Coast.

State of play

These are still relatively early days on Africa's road to the 2026 World Cup, with at least six more game weeks to be played in the first round of the CAF qualification campaign, without considering the continental and interconfederation playoffs.

Nonetheless, some familiar faces are already leading the groups and seem set for automatic qualification for USA-Canada-Mexico.

Of the nine group leaders, six have previously qualified for a World Cup, with North African sides, in particular, starting the campaign strongly.

Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria lead the way in their respective pools, and we could have a strong representation of the continent's north at the global showpiece.

FIFA World Cup Qualifying: African qualification standings | Fixtures and results

What happens next?

We now face now a nine-month wait for the next round of qualifiers, and the group stage program is due to conclude in October 2025.

The nine group winners qualify automatically for the finals, while the four best-placed group runners-up will enter the CAF playoffs -- with the winner of that program advancing to the inter-confederation playoffs to potentially give Africa a 10th spot in 2026.