Johannesburg, South Africa | AFP |
Qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations begins on Wednesday, just 45 days after Cameroon snatched victory over Egypt in the final of the previous edition.
The “Indomitable Lions” of Cameroon and the “Pharaohs” of Egypt will not be involved, however, as they are among 45 countries given byes to the group phase that includes Uganda.
That leaves the six lowest seeds, the Comoros, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mauritius, Sao Tome e Principe and South Sudan to play for the other three mini-league places.
Sao Tome meet Madagascar and Djibouti face South Sudan on Wednesday, and the Comoros meet Mauritius on Friday in preliminary round-first legs.
The return matches are scheduled for Sunday and Tuesday and the aggregate winners will be part of the 24-fixture first matchday during June.
Only Mauritius among the six hopefuls have qualified for a Cup of Nations, competing in 1974 when it was an eight-team tournament, half the current size.
But that does not mean they and the other five minnows are without hope of reaching the 2019 finals in Cameroon.
Guinea-Bissau competing in the 2017 Cup of Nations was no less a fairytale than 5,000-1 shots Leicester City winning the English Premier League last season.
In a qualifying group including former champions Congo Brazzaville and Zambia and Kenya, pundits were convinced Guinea-Bissau would be the whipping boys.
But the team from the tiny former Portuguese colony in west Africa not only won the group, they did so with a match to spare.
Djibouti, Madagascar and Sao Tome have changed coaches ahead of the preliminary ties.
Mauritanian Moussa Ghoussam replaces Tunisian Noureddine Gharsalli in charge of Djibouti, whose build-up included a 7-0 friendly hiding in Burundi.
Former Sao Tome coach Gustavo Clemente has been recalled in place of Antonio do Rosario and Madagascar have hired Nicolas Dupuis after dumping fellow Frenchman Auguste Raux.