The die is cast. We now know who will tangle with who in order to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa to be held from 19th January to 10th February, 2013.

1. The 30 teams in the draw are the strongest on the continent

Of the top 30 FIFA-ranked African countries, only Egypt, Benin and Congo were not in the pots for the draw. Evidently, the 30 teams that will do battle on 7-9 September and 12 and 14 October, 2013 in home and away knock-out matches, appear to be the cream of African football. The present qualification system somehow ensures that countries like Mauritania, Swaziland, Djibouti and so on will keep looking on from the sidelines, with envy.

2. West Africa – assured of being “over-representated” at the tournament, is this good?

Of the 30 nations that were in the pots for the draw at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg, exactly half of them -15 to be specific – were from West Africa. The region is guaranteed five places because of the following ties involving teams from the region: Gabon v. Togo; Ivory Coast v. Senegal; Guinea v. Niger; Cape Verde v. Cameroon and Liberia v. Nigeria. There could be 10 teams from West Africa at Afcon 2013 if Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Mali win their various encounters. The North African region has a guaranteed place due to the Libya v. Algeria draw. These are the only two top 10 Africa teams that will pit their wits against each other. If Tunisia beats Sierra Leone and Morocco dispatches Mozambique there could be three countries from the Maghreb. The encounter between Sudan and Ethiopia assures East Africa of a representative at the January, 2013 football Jamboree. The Cranes of Uganda could be the second East African country if it can upset the Chipolopolo of Zambia. The Southern Africa region is guaranteed two places: an automatic place for the host nation South Africa and a winner between Angola and the Warriors of Zimbabwe. The region could possibly be represented by 6 teams in total if Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique win their games.

3. A head start for the Top 10 Fifa-ranked nations?

Apart from Tunisia and Nigeria, the top 10 African teams on the FIFA rankings have all been given a head-start as they will all play their first games at home. Will they pulverise their opponents to the extent that the return legs will be mere formalities? The answer is not that simple considering the way the preliminary qualification matches panned out. Central African Republic defeated Egypt at its home in the first leg. Malawi overcame a 3-2 loss away to Chad by winning 2-0 in Blantyre. Uganda reversed a 3-1 loss to Congo in Pointe Noire to triumph 4-0 in the second leg at its home.

4. An easy-looking tie for the defending champions?

The African champions – the Chipolopolo of Zambia – appear to have been handed an easy-looking tie, at least on paper. Their opponents were last at the Africa Cup tournament 34 years ago! The niggling question for Zambia is whether they will qualify for Afcon 2013 in order to defend their title. The two nations have met many times especially at the regional Cecafa tournament where Zambia has not been sending its strongest sides. However, wasn’t it the so-called ‘minnow’ Sierra Leone who contributed to the defending champions, Egypt not returning to defend its title at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea?

5. Who qualifies for Afcon 2013?

Looking at the narrowing of the gap between the so-called ‘giants’ and the ‘minnows’ in Africa, has found it hard to predict the nations that will qualify for Afcon 2013. The only assured fact is that the hosts South Africa will be part of the tournament, the other 15 teams will only be known the weekend of 12 and 14 October, 2012, this is what makes African football so interesting.