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RUSSIA IS LEAST RANKED AT ITS OWN WORLD CUP

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For the first time since the FIFA ranking began in 1993, the host nation for the World Cup will be the least ranked.

The highest ranked country among the 32 jostling for the World Cup is Germany at the topmost position.

Russia at number 65 will be the worst ranked team when it hosts the World Cup next summer, marking the first time in history when the host nation has the lowest ranking of all the tournament participants.

Russia qualified automatically and even heads Pot 1 which harbours the seven highest ranked countries, including the number one, Germany.

The next lowest ranked teams are Saudi Arabia in 63rd, South Korea in 62nd, first-time World Cup participant Panama in 49th and Morocco in 48th.

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As hosts, Russia was automatically placed into the first seeding pot for the draw, which takes place on December 1. The first pot is reserved for the highest-ranked participants, including Germany which holds top spot and Brazil in second place.

If the World Cup was not held in Russia, the country’s team would be in the fourth seeding pot among the weakest teams.

The qualification for the international tournament wrapped up on November 16, with Peru becoming the last team to make the 32 finalists that will compete in Russia when it hosts the World Cup from June 14 to July 15 next year.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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South Africa drops domestic league’s top scorer,  Mabasa in preliminary World Cup qualifying squad against Nigeria

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Tshegofatso Mabasa of Orlando Pirates celebrates goal during DStv Premiership 2023/24 Match between Orlando Pirates and Golden Arrows at Orlando Stadium on the 06 April 2024 © Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePi

In-form local league top scorer, Tshegofatso Mabasa is a glaring absentee in a 36-man provisional squad that South Africa’s coach, Hugo Broos has drawn for twin World Cup qualifying match against Nigeria in Uyo and Zimbabwe at home.

Tshegofatso Mabasa, the centre forward for Orlando Pirates currently tops scoring chart in South Africa’s DStv Premiership where he has scored 15 goals. The provisional 36-man squad will in the next few days be reduced to 23.

The Belgian tactician however called up most of the players that featured at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier in the year when South Africa placed third after being eliminated by the Nigeria Super Eagles.

Included in the squad is Lyle Foster. The  striker  whose club, Burnley has just been relegated from the Englsih Premier League was absent at the Africa Cup of Nations owing to what was termed as mental health issues.

Also invited is Mabasa’s teammate at the Orlando Pirate, Evidence Makgopa, who played a crucial role for Bafana as they won bronze at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire.

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He was not called for Bafana’s friendlies in Algeria in March, where the national team drew 1-1 against Andorra and 3-3 against Algeria as Foster’s future with the national team remained clouded.

Broos said after the Nations Cup he would engage the Pirates youth product and Burnley manager Vincent Kompany on the striker’s future with Bafana.

Another notable inclusion is Pirates’ 19-year-old attacker Relebohile Mofokeng who has caught the eye with his performances, scoring four goals in 35 league and cup games in a breakthrough season for the Soweto giants.

Bafana meet Nigeria in Lagos on June 6, then host Zimbabwe in Bloemfontein on June 11.

South Africa are in second place in group C on three points to Rwanda on four. Nigeria, Lesotho and Zimbabwe have two points and Benin one.

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The top teams from the nine African groups qualify for the first 48-team World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the US. The four best runners-up go into a playoff to decide one side that will contest a six-team intercontinental tournament.

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CAF appoints Chadian official as referee for Nigeria, South Africa World Cup qualifying battle

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Chadian referee, Alhadi Allaou Mahamat

Chadian referee, Alhadi Allaou Mahamat will be in the centre when the Super Eagles host South Africa’s Bafana Bafana in a 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying match at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo next month.

The 38 year old was the fourth official when South Africa played goalless with Tunisia at the Africa Cup of Nations in January.

Mahamat, also refereed the 3-0 home loss of Dream FC of Ghana to Zamalek SC in the semi-final of the Confederation Cup. He has been a FIFA referee since 2012.  

He has officiated in the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup competitions. He was also a referee at the 34th Africa Cup of Nations held in Cote d’Ivoire earlier this year.

Mahamat will work with Sudanese official Mohammed Ibrahim Abdallah (assistant referee 1), Abelmiro Dos Reis Monte Negro from Sao Tome & Principe (assistant referee 2) and compatriot Pousri Armi Alfred (fourth official) at the encounter that will commence at 8pm Nigeria time on Friday, 7th June.

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Ahmed Sayed Abou Elela from Egypt will serve as the referee assessor while Ghanaian Munkaila Nassam Adam will be the commissioner for the Day 3 clash.

CAF has also appointed Ethiopian official Bamlak Tessema Weyesa, 43, as the referee for the Day 4 encounter between the Super Eagles and the Cheetahs of Benin Republic at the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Abidjan. That match will kick off at 4pm CIV time (5pm Nigeria) on Monday, 10th June.

An icon of refereeing on the African continent, Bamlak Weyesa will work with compatriots Temesgin Samuel Atango (assistant referee 1), Tigle Gizaw Belachew (assistant referee 2) and Tewodros Mitiku (fourth official). Djamel Haimoudi from Algeria will be the referee assessor while David Yameogo from Burkina Faso will serve as the commissioner, and Ivorian Claude Elloh will work as security officer.

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Finidi George wants to be judged with the twin World Cup qualifiers with South Africa and Benin Republic

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NFF Director of Legal, Obi guides Finidi in the signing of the contract.  

“My first target is to make sure that we are in line to qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup by winning the upcoming two matches against South Africa and Benin Republic” declares Finidi George as he signed the dotted lines that confirmed him as the 41st Super Eagles coach.

Continuing, he remarked:  “The 2025 AFCON qualifiers will soon start and we must also be prepared for those as well. I know what the NFF wants as it is boldly written in the contract, and I will work very hard to add value to the team and put myself in the position to earn even more than I will be earning from the take-off.”

On relationship with the players, George said: “I have always had a cordial relationship with all the players as an assistant coach.

“I am still the same person even as Head Coach now, only that the title has changed. There will be no controversy regarding relationships with the players. These are professional players and we have to give them what they’re used to in Europe; you don’t need to slap anyone to get him to do the right thing.

“I will try my best to ensure the team starts functioning properly and we start winning games again. There is no pressure on me; I have tough skin. I just want to call for your support. I know this is not an easy job, but with the support of everyone, we can achieve our objectives.”

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