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Ivory Coast against Senegal is the highlight of the final round of qualifying for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
The draw was made in tournament host country South Africa yesterday, and means either Ivory Coast or Senegal will join another giant, Egypt, on the sidelines when the showpiece kicks off next January.
Ivory Coast, Afcon winners in 1992, will host the first leg in Abidjan over the weekend of September 7-9 before the second leg on October 7-9 in Dakar.
The pressure on both teams will be intense after their contrasting disappointments at the 2012 Afcon earlier this year. Ivory Coast’s Elephants, captained by Didier Drogba, finished runners-up to Zambia after a penalty shootout in this year’s final, to add to their run of under-achievement. Senegal did even worse, losing all three group games against Zambia, co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Libya to finish bottom of their group, despite being one of the pre-tournament favourites.
In other ties, African champions Zambia will kickoff their title defence with a tricky match against Uganda while Ghana will face Malawi.
Nigeria, surprising absentees at the last event, have been drawn against West African neighbours Liberia, the lowest ranked side – 35th on the continent – left in the qualifiers.
A notable absentee from the 30 countries involved in the draw was record seven-time champions Egypt, who surprisingly fell to Central African Republic during the first qualifying round last month.
The Pharaohs, winners of an unmatched three consecutive titles between 2006 and 2010, will miss consecutive Afcon tournaments for only the second time since the continental showcase was launched 55 years ago.
Their conquerors, the Central African Republic, have been drawn against Burkina Faso and are just two wins away from a first appearance at the tournament.
Ethiopia, another country to upset the odds by ousting Benin, face Sudan in a spicy East African derby while there is another intriguing regional showdown between North Africa’s Libya and Algeria. There is also a Southern African derby as Zimbabwe and Angola face-off while Botswana have been drawn against Mali, third-place finishers at this year’s Afcon.
|Zambia begin their title defence against Uganda|
Libya were originally due to stage the next edition of the Afcon, but the rebellion that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi last year meant the exchanging of dates with 2017 hosts South Africa.
The 2013 tournament will be the first to be held in odd-numbered year in five decades.
Held in even-number years since the 1968 finals in Ethiopia, the Cup of Nations switches to uneven-number years from 2013 to avoid every second tournament being held early in the same year as a World Cup.
Having to complete the qualifying process within a year has also caused the scrapping of the traditional mini-leagues format. The format this year is a three-round home-and-away knockout system, with the 16 qualifiers for 2012 receiving byes into the final round.
Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, final round draw:
Home team for first leg listed first:
Mali v Botswana
Zimbabwe v Angola
Ghana v Malawi
Liberia v Nigeria
Zambia v Uganda
Cape Verde v Cameroon
Mozambique v Morocco
Sierra Leone v Tunisia
Guinea v Niger
Sudan v Ethiopia
Libya v Algeria
Ivory Coast v Senegal
Democratic Republic of Congo v Equatorial Guinea
Gabon v Togo
Central Africa v Burkina Faso