European club finals heroes target World Cup in Africa

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European club finals match-winners Ademola Lookman and Ayoub el Kaabi turn their attention to 2026 World Cup qualifying in Africa from Wednesday with 52 fixtures scheduled over seven days.

1 month ago
Lookman scored a hat-trick as Atalanta won the Europa League last month, and ended a 51-match unbeaten run by Bayer Leverkusen in domestic and international competitions. The London-born 26-year-old could lead the Nigeria attack at home to South Africa in Uyo in a repeat of the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals won by the Super Eagles on penalties.
A week after Lookman stole the show in Dublin, Moroccan El Kaabi nodded the extra-time winner for Olympiakos against Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final in Athens. He will be a contender for a place in the Atlas Lions attack against Zambia in Agadir in another Cup of Nations repeat with Morocco winning 1-0 in the Ivory Coast last January.
Meanwhile, Kenya are among 17 nations who must stage home matches at neutral venues due to sub-standard venues, stadium renovations or security issues. Here, 'AFP Sport' highlights five matchday three showdowns that include shock 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco and reigning African champions the Ivory Coast.

Nigeria v South Africa
A powerful Nigerian attack will lack its biggest star - 2023 African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen - through injury and Nathan Tella is absent for undisclosed personal reasons.
But with Lookman, Victor Boniface, Kelechi Iheanacho and Samuel Chukwueze to choose from, coach and former star Finidi George is not short of talent as he prepares for his competitive debut.
South Africa welcome back forward Lyle Foster from demoted Premier League club Burnley, who missed the Cup of Nations due to mental health challenges.
Egypt v Burkina Faso
Prolific Liverpool scorer Mohamed Salah is set to represent Egypt for the first time since an injury against Ghana in a group match cut short his AFCON campaign.
"Mohamed is one of the best footballers in the world and there is no rift between us," said coach Hossam Hassan, who replaced Portuguese Rui Vitoria after a last-16 exit in the Ivory Coast.
When Salah was injured, Hassan said the star should remain with the national squad in west Africa, but the forward returned to his club for treatment.
Morocco v Zambia
A Hakim Ziyech goal separated the teams at the latest AFCON, where Morocco suffered a shock last-16 loss to South Africa and Zambia failed to make the knockout stage.
Key Moroccan figures in the 2022 World Cup run in Qatar, including goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, defender Achraf Hakimi and forward Youssef en-Nesyri remain.
Coach Walid Regragui also called up Brahim Diaz, an attacking midfielder at European titans Real Madrid for the clash with Zambia, who are on the back foot after a surprise away loss to Niger.
Senegal v DR Congo
Defending champions and among the favourites to win the 2024 AFCON, Senegal only reached the round of 16 before falling to hosts Ivory Coast after a penalty shootout.
Stalwarts like goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and forward Sadio Mane - all based in Saudi Arabia - remain as the Teranga Lions seek redemption in World Cup qualifying.
The Congolese exceeded expectations by finishing fourth at the AFCON this year and hope Yoane Wissa can replicate his form with Premier League outfit Brentford.
Ivory Coast v Gabon
Coach Emerse Fae has given maiden call-ups to a France-based trio - defender Christopher Operi and forwards Mohamed Bamba and Evann Guessand - for a Korhogo clash with Gabon.
But there are no places in the Cup of Nations title-holders squad for defenders Serge Aurier and Eric Bailly due to a lack of club game time, and winger Wilfried Zaha remains out of favour.
Star Marseille forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - voted the outstanding African after the 2023-2024 Ligue 1 season - has been recalled having missed the first two matchdays.