“With Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, South Africa and Lesotho, Benin will have quite a challenge on their hands if they are to qualify for the 2026 World Cup. Gernot Rohr, the Cheetahs’ Franco-German coach, is well aware of this.
First things first. Although the draw made on July 13 in Abidjan enabled the 54 African teams involved to know their opponents for the qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup in the USA, Canada and Mexico, this parenthesis quickly closed, after the time for analysis, to reopen that of the AFCON in Côte d’Ivoire (January 13-February 11, 2024). This is especially true for those teams who will be playing a decisive final match in September, on the 6th and final day.
Benin is one of them.The draw with Senegal in Cotonou (1-1, June 17) means they can dream of a return to the continental stage, after an absence in Cameroon in 2022. To do so, they’ll need to win in Mozambique, where it’s never easy to win. But once this perilous trip to the Portuguese-speaking country is over, Gernot Rohr will turn his attention to the first two rounds of World Cup qualifying, scheduled for November. By then, the Franco-German coach will no doubt have familiarized himself with the fixture list, expected in the coming weeks, and Group C holds few unknowns for him. “It’s a tough, complicated and very interesting group. Benin will be up against Rwanda, who are in their qualifying group for the AFCON in Côte d’Ivoire. We know this team well, and they’ll no doubt be out for revenge after their 0-3 defeat by Benin, but we’ll have to show that we’re capable of winning on the pitch.”
Reunion with Nigeria, “Group C favourites”.
The Cheetahs will also come up against Zimbabwe, whose suspension by FIFA has come to an end, but who are not guaranteed to host in Harare or Bulawayo, as none of their stadiums are CAF-approved.“They’re a strong, physical side, a good team,” warns the former Bayern Munich and Girondins de Bordeaux defender. They will also be up against Lesotho, who have just contested the final of the COSAFA Cup in South Africa against Zambia.”I played against this team with Nigeria, and Benin also played against them in the CAN qualifiers in Cameroon (1-0, 0-0). We’re also going to meet three southern African teams, who are geographically close, as there’s also South Africa in this Group C. They’ve qualified quickly for the African Cup of Nations. They qualified quickly for the CAN in Côte d’Ivoire, and have a new spirit,” adds Rohr.
But when the draw was made, the Benin coach was understandably particularly moved when Nigeria, one of the 9 seeded teams, was placed in Group C. Rohr coached the Super Eagles from 2016 to 2021, qualifying them for the 2018 World Cup and the last two Africa Cup of Nations finals, although he was sacked a few weeks before the Cameroon edition. “I’ll be back with a team I know well, players who started with me in the national team (including Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze). Nigeria are the group favourites. What’s more, it’s a neighboring country to Benin, so it’s going to be a real derby. There will be a lot of derbies in this Group C… The 2026 World Cup is a goal, but before that, there’s this fantastic match to play in Mozambique…”.