WHILE focus on the Africa continent is on the forthcoming Orange Africa Cup of Nation to be co-hosted by Equatoria Guinea and Gabon in few weeks time, the struggle for places at the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on the western island of Sao Tome e Principe this weekend.
African football governing body CAF has decided to switch the climax of the biennial competition from even to odd-number years and avoid having every second Cup of Nations staged in the same year as a World Cup.
It left fixture planners with limited dates for qualifiers and minnows Sao Tome e Principe and Lesotho meet on consecutive January weekends in a preliminary tie for the right to tackle Sierra Leone.
Sao Tome are the ‘invisible’ team of Africa with world ruling body FIFA not ranking them for several years due to inactivity while Lesotho are back after missing the 2012 qualifiers to concentrate on the national youth team.
The 14-fixture first round will see the first legs set for the end of February and the second legs in mid-June.
Early September and mid-October dates accommodate the second and final round of qualifiers with the 15 overall winners joining hosts South Africa next January for a second Orange Africa Cup of Nations within 13 months.
Another change in Africa is that World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers will no longer be combined as happened for the 2006 and 2010 world and continental tournaments. The Orange 2012 Africa Cup of Nations contenders co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Gabon plus Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia and Zambia get byes into the 2013 second round.
But surprise 2012 qualifying casualties like record seven-time winners Egypt and other former champions Cameroon, Nigeria and Algeria have been included in the first round with several facing potentially hazardous first legs.
Egypt will be travelling to improving Central African Republic. Rwanda are a transformed team since widely travelled Serb coach Milutin “Micho’ Sredojevic made Kigali his latest African ‘home’ and Stephen Keshi-coached Nigeria can expect a tough scrap. Cameroon will take on Guinea Bissau and Gambia clashes with Algeria.-Cafonline.com