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Ranking the prospects of Africa's contenders after World Cup draw

Africa's five sides learned their fates in Friday's group-stage draw, but what are the quintet's chances of reaching the World Cup knockout stages now that we know their opening opponents?

Here's how we rank the continent's representatives in light of Friday's draw.

5. Tunisia: The Eagles of Carthage appear to be the continent's weakest representatives in Russia next summer, and their slim hopes of reaching the knockouts weren't helped by a tricky opening group.

Had they found themselves in Egypt or Senegal's place, they'd maybe climb in our rankings, but after being pitched in Group G, they're candidates to be one of the first teams eliminated from the tournament.

Indeed, there aren't many sides who begin their tournament with trickier fixtures than the North Africans - who face England and Belgium in their first two matches - and they're unlikely to still be in the running by the time they meet Panama in Saransk.

4. Morocco: Ahead of the draw, Morocco arguably looked like Africa's strongest side - and the best placed to reach the knockout stages.

However, they've been handed a stiff first-round draw, which severely dents their prospects of advancing past the group stage on their first tournament appearance since 1998.

As if European champions Portugal weren't tough enough, Morocco also drew the short straw when they were drawn with Spain - the toughest team lurking in Pot 2 - and it's imperative they beat Iran in their opening match.

3. Nigeria: Like Morocco, Nigeria's prospects have been dented by a testing first-round draw, and they'd do well to match their World Cup 2014 return, when they reached the Round of 16.

There was a thunderous sense of inevitability about their being pooled with Argentina - remarkably, for the fifth time in their six World Cup finals appearances.

However, while the Super Eagles came from behind to beat La Albiceleste 4-2 in a recent friendly, the South Americans surely can't defend that badly in Russia.

Croatia and potential surprise package Iceland - quarter finalists at Euro 2016 - also lie in wait, and both represent tough challenges.

2. Egypt: There are concerns about how the Pharaohs would fare without Mohamed Salah, but assuming he's fit and firing, they look well placed to compete for a spot in the knockout stages.

Certainly, Group A represents a favourable draw, with Egypt receiving both the weakest team in Pot 1 - Russia - and Saudi Arabia, arguably the poorest of the bottom seeds.

Uruguay represent a stern test, although they're not the team they were, and the North African heavyweights will fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stages for the first time.

1. Senegal: Of all of Africa's five representatives, Senegal appear to be the best placed to advance from their group after being handed a favourable first-round draw.

Apart from Russia - who nonetheless can call upon home advantage - Poland are the weakest of the Pot 1 teams, while Colombia only sneaked through South American qualification, finishing one point higher than Peru and Chile.

There are doubts about whether Aliou Cisse has the tactical nous to see the Lions of Teranga past some of the tournament bigger teams, but among this trio, there's no defence they cannot unlock.

Similarly, if star man Sadio Mane avoids injury ahead of the tournament, he can enjoy himself against opposition defences, with Poland conceding more than any of Europe's other qualifiers.

If they start strongly, then victory against an unconvincing Japan side in their second match could be enough to see the Lions of Teranga into the knockouts.

Expect talk of emulating the 2002 generation to intensify in light of Friday's draw.

Ed Dove is the Soccer Editor for KweséESPN. Follow him on Twitter @EddyDove.


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