South Africa handed tough World Cup draw against Angola

Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba
Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba, South Africa coach

South Africa were handed a tough task when the draw for the preliminary African qualifying rounds of the 2018 World Cup was made on Saturday in host nation Russia.

Bafana Bafana, who have played at global football's showpiece event three times, were paired with fellow southern Africans Angola during a ceremony in St Petersburg.

South Africa's coach Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba said he was not afraid to meet Angola in the qualifiers.

"I think in all fairness, it was a fair draw," said Mashaba from Russia.

"One could not have asked for a better draw than this one.

"We have played Angola on a number of occasions, although the outcomes were close, we have had the upper hand."

Angola will host Bafana Bafana in Luanda on 11 October with the return leg expected in South Africa two weeks later and Mashaba is not contemplating an early exit.

"It [the draw] was more or less what we expected; you cannot reach the World Cup finals without facing tough teams." he said.

"One thing for sure, we will prepare thoroughly against Angola; we won't underestimate them."

Angola versus South Africa is the only one of 20 second-round ties featuring two former qualifiers with Angola shock participants in the 2006 tournament.

South Africa reached the 1998 and 2002 competitions via the qualifying route and were automatic 2010 World Cup contestants as hosts.

Only seven African rankings places divide Bafana Bafana and the Palancas Negras and the clash is a highlight of the draw.

Another fascinating match-up is the tie between four-time qualifiers Morocco and 2015 Cup of Nations semi-finalists Equatorial Guinea.

Morocco pulled out of hosting the last Africa Cup of Nations because they feared visiting supporters could bring the Ebola virus into their country.

Last-minute replacements Equatorial Guinea used home advantage to good effect, reaching the last four before bowing out to Ghana.

The Moroccans have not featured at a World Cup since 1998, but boast a squad that includes Bayern Munich defender Mehdi Benatia and Granada striker Youssef El Arabi.

Cameroon will begin their campaign for a record-extending eighth appearance by an African team with an away game against Somalia or Niger.

Nigeria, the second most frequent African qualifiers, look set to tackle Swaziland, who should eliminate bottom-of-the-rankings Djibouti in a first round confined to the weaker nations.

Cup of Nations title-holders Ivory Coast and Ghana, the team they defeated on penalties in the final last February, are chasing fourth consecutive World Cup appearances.

The Ivorians begin with a visit to Liberia or Guinea-Bissau while Ghana travel to the Comoros Islands off the south-east coast or Lesotho.

Highest-ranked African team Algeria, who took eventual 2014 world champions Germany to extra time in a last-16 clash in Brazil, play Tanzania or Malawi.

Egypt are winners of the Cup of Nations a record seven times but have repeatedly struggled to qualify for the World Cup. They have drawn either Chad or Sierra Leone.

Debutants South Sudan face Mauritania and Mauritius play Kenya in the first round.

The two-leg first-round ties are scheduled between October 5 and 13 with the second-round fixtures between 9-17 November.

Places in the group stage await the 20 second-round winners with the five table-toppers going to Russia.