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Formats for 2017 AFCON, 2018 World Cup qualifiers revealed
African football’s governing body (CAF) has approved qualifying formats for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and 2018 FIFA World Cup, it announced on its official website.
2017 Africa Cup of Nations
According to the statement, the host for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, known acronymically as AFCON, will be announced on April 8 after CAF’s Ordinary General Assembly in Cairo.
Qualifying for the tournament will begin this June with 52 teams set to enter. FIFA has designated June 8 through 16 as international match dates.
The host nation will participate in the qualifying stages for the first time ever, though the matches they play will not count for points. Instead, they’ll be considered friendlies.
The teams will be divided into 13 groups of four, with the group winners qualifying for the AFCON 2017 finals. The top two second-placed finishers will also qualify, though the second-placed finisher in the group that includes the host country will not be considered.
The draw to determine the 13 qualifying groups will be made immediately following the announcement of the host.
2018 FIFA World Cup
African qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will comprise four rounds total, including three preliminary stages. The final phase will consist of 20 teams divided into five groups of four. Only the winner of each group will qualify for the World Cup. No details were given regarding what the preliminary stages will entail, though historically they’ve included a series of home-and-away playoffs.
Preliminary 2018 World Cup qualifiers will begin in October, during FIFA designated international match days. Draws to determine groups and match-ups around the world will be held on July 25 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The qualifying format is a change from the one adopted for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which concluded with a playoff round comprising 10 group winners. The new format is a familiar one, however, resembling those used in African qualifiers for the 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010 World Cups, with only group winners advancing to the finals.
Though no official word has been given, procedures for seeding in each round will likely be heavily influenced (or even completely determined) by the FIFA World Ranking. If Egypt is to avoid being paired with the continent’s most formidable sides, it’ll have to improve on its position in the rankings with as many wins as possible in 2015. Egypt will already likely have to compete in at least one of the three preliminary stages. The Pharaohs will be looking to end what would be a 28-year World Cup drought.