By MARC SERBER
Among the confederations across the globe, the road to the Brazil is probably the most strenuous in the Confederation of African Football.
Only five of the 54 member nations qualify for the World Cup after an arduous campaign that started for some back in November of 2011.
Only the winners of 10 four-team groups advance to the final round, a two-legged playoff to decide which nations will represent the continent in Brazil.
After this weekend, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon are through, while two spots are still up for grabs, including a pivotal second-leg showdown in Cairo between Ghana and Egypt.
Here’s a closer look at the latest in CAF World Cup qualifying:
SUPER EAGLES THE FIRST TO QUALIFY (4-1 vs. Ethiopia on Aggregate)
On Saturday, Nigeria became the first African nation to book its place in Brazil with a straightforward 2-0 victory over Ethiopia to advance 4-1 on aggregate.
Following a 2-1 win in the first leg in Ethiopia, the Super Eagles used two set pieces at the UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar, Nigeria, to secure victory in front of their home fans.
The home side was cruising after just 20 minutes when Ethiopia was whistled for a handball in the box. Liverpool winger Victor Moses converted the penalty to the left, with goalkeeper Sisay Bancha going the other way.
The Super Eagles made sure of qualification in the 82nd minute when substitute Victor Obinna (who replaced Moses just three minutes earlier) caught Bancha unaware with a quickly taken free kick from 25 yards out.
IVORY COAST MADE TO WAIT UNTIL FINAL MOMENTS (4-2 vs. Senegal on Aggregate)
After a 3-1 first-leg victory in Abidjan, many thought the second leg would be rather simple—especially since Senegal had to play its home match in Casablanca, Morocco, following a ban on matches inside its own country due to rioting in 2013.
Didier Drogba played both hero and villain at the defensive end.
The Chelsea legend cleared a Dame N’Doye header off the line with an overhead kick in the 15th minute. But Drogba handed Senegal a penalty kick when he needlessly brought down Sadio Mane in the box with plenty of defenders in support.
Substitute Moussa Sow stutter-stepped and placed his penalty to the left of Cote d’Ivoire keeper Boubacar Barry, who was beaten despite jumping off his line.
Senegal peppered the visitors’ goal for the rest of the match, looking for an aggregate equalizer that would have put the Lions of Teranga through on away goals.
All hope of a comeback was killed deep into stoppage time, however, as Salomon Kalou finished off a swift counterattack to ensure qualification for Ivory Coast.
CAMEROON QUALIFIES IN DOMINANT FASHION (4-1 vs. Tunisia on Aggregate)
The Indomitable Lions lived up to their nickname with a 4-1 thrashing of Tunisia.
Following a 0-0 draw in Rades, Tunisia, back on Oct. 13, this looked to be a potentially tricky match, but Cameroon calmed any nerves that may have been engulfing the Stade Omnisport with a goal after just four minutes.
Pierre Webo made amends for missing a golden opportunity in the first leg by outmuscling Karim Haggui and placing a shot just inside goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifa’s far post.
Cameroon went 2-0 up just before the half-hour mark after Benjamin Moukandjo weaved his way through the Tunisian defense and smashed a shot past Cherifa from 18 yards out.
Ahmed Akaichi came on for Yassing Chikhaoui at halftime and restored hope for Tunisia just six minutes later. The 24-year-old raced through the Cameroon defense and volleyed past Charles Itandje from close range.
The Eagles of Carthage looked to be soaring once again, but their wings were clipped by a Jean Makoun brace inside the final 25 minutes.
The Stade Rennes midfielder headed in a corner kick after 65 minutes, then put in a rebound four minutes from time after substitute Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s low drive rebounded off the post.
The victory means the Africa Cup of Nations winners will be heading to their sixth World Cup in the last seven cycles. Since its quarterfinals appearance in 1990, the West African nation has only missed out on the 2006 World Cup.
TWO MORE SPOTS LEFT
There are still two spots up for grabs.
One will almost certainly go to Ghana, which defeated Bob Bradley’s Egypt 6-1 in its home leg on Oct. 15.
The two sides will meet in Cairo on Tuesday. U.S. fans will be either praying for a Bradley-led miracle or that the Stars and Stripes can somehow avoid the Black Stars after being dumped out of the last two World Cups by the Ghanaians.
The more intriguing of Tuesday’s matches is Algeria’s second leg clash with Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso has a 3-2 advantage after their home leg, thanks to an 86th minute penalty from Aristide Bance.
Algeria has the home-field advantage and World Cup experience, yet Brukino Faso is a rising soccer power in Africa. The landlocked nation finished second to Nigeria in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
The battle for Africa’s last spot could very well be the most entertaining of any so far in African World Cup qualifying.