JOHANNESBURG: Ivory Coast and Ghana launch campaigns for their fourth consecutive World Cup appearances with away fixtures this week against much lower-ranked opponents Liberia and Comoros respectively.
It is a feat only Cameroon has achieved among the 54 African football nations, qualifying for the 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002 tournaments before a saved penalty cost them a 2006 place.
Reigning African champions Ivory Coast travel to Liberia — the country that produced 1995 World and European Footballer of the Year George Weah — who are 64 places lower in the global rankings.
Ghana visits the Comoros, an island state off the southeast coast of Africa and 147 rungs lower than their opponents on the FIFA list.
Seeding means many of the 20 second round qualifiers, to be played on a home-and-away basis between Wednesday and next Tuesday, appear lob sided.
Algeria is 109 places above Tanzania, Cape Verde 93 rungs higher than Kenya, and Egypt and Senegal 79 places each above Chad and Madagascar respectively.
However, a glimmer of hope for lower-ranked nations is that they enjoy home advantage first, offering a chance to build a lead in ties to be decided by goal aggregate.
Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, who hopes to win a record-extending fifth consecutive African Footballer of the Year title in January, is a notable Ivorian absentee.
France-born coach Michel Dussuyer said the 32-year-old “has not expressed a desire to rejoin the squad”.
Toure was a key figure as he helped the Elephants finally fulfill a decade of promise by winning the Africa Cup of Nations last February in Equatorial Guinea.
But he has resisted the physical exertions of traveling to and from Africa since, missing the start of the Cup of Nations defense, a drab 0-0 draw away to Sierra Leone.
While Ivory Coast, who replaced Algeria at the top of the African rankings last week, had a first-round bye, Liberia took an unusual route past Guinea-Bissau.