The 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifying draw was made this past weekend for the tournament to be held in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, an exciting prospect for two countries that have never hosted a sporting event of this magnitude.
The qualifying process is as follows: the 11 group winners and the three best runners up will qualify directly to the Cup of Nations.
However, the draw and this tournament are still being overshadowed by the ban to the Togolese national team (for my thoughts on this, please see my previous article). The excitement over this draw has completely been sucked away as Togo have been unfairly excluded from the draw while the rest of the world knows the draw is invalid.
In protest over the exclusion of Togo from this draw and because once their ban is overturned there will need to be a new qualifying draw, I am going to simply keep my commentary to a minimum.
Group One : Mali , Cape Verde, Zimbabwe, Liberia
Mali will be pleased with their draw with Cape Verde being one of the weakest teams of out Pot Two and should easily qualify with Zimbabwe finishing in the second spot. Too much parity among the other three to have the runners up qualify directly.
Group Two : Nigeria , Guinea, Ethiopia, Madagascar
Nigeria will expect to qualify comfortably out of this group, while Guinea will have the belief that they can take a point off Nigeria in Conarky and then run the table on the others in order to grab a runners up qualifying berth.
Group Three : Zambia , Mozambique, Libya, Comoros
This is a very tricky group for the top three teams, while Comoros will look to keep scores below double digits. Look for a resurgent Mozambique and Libya to push Zambia all the way, but a determined Zambia to just grab top spot.
Group Four : Algeria , Morocco, Tanzania, Central Africa Republic
A mouthwatering North African derby between Algeria and Morocco is the highlight of this group where both teams should qualify with Algeria as the top dogs in the group and Morocco in one of the best runners up.
Group Five : Cameroon , Senegal, Congo DR, Mauritius
The group that will be labeled the ‘Group of Death’ with powerhouses Cameroon, perennial underachievers Congo DR and a Senegalese squad that will be eager to get back to their glory days. There is too much parity here for a best runners up spot to be awarded, so look for Cameroon to grab the only qualifying berth.
Group Six : Burkina Faso , Gambia, Namibia, Mauritania
Burkina Faso will be thrilled with a draw that gives them a strong chance of progressing to the finals where their biggest challenge will come from a young, but talented Gambia side. Expect the Burkinabe to qualify comfortably in the top spot.
Group Seven : Egypt , South Africa, Sierra Leone, Niger
A heavyweight clash between Egypt and South Africa is the highlight of this group, while everyone will be expecting the reigning African champions to progress. If South Africa can navigate their way through Sierra Leone better than their last campaign, look for Bafana Bafana to grab a best runners up berth out of this group.
Group Eight : Cote d’Ivoire , Benin, Rwanda, Burundi
Cote d’Ivoire will be face their West African brothers Benin in this group and will expect to progress comfortably. Expect Benin to give a real run for one of the best runners up berths.
Group Nine : Ghana , Congo, Sudan, Swaziland
Ghana will be jumping for joy with this draw and will be expected to come away with six wins. Congo and Sudan will battle it out for second.
Group 10 : Angola , Uganda, Kenya, Guinea-Bissau
Angola could have done better with their draw as they have recently struggled against Uganda, but will be seeking revenge here. Kenya proved in their last campaign they could be tricky as well. Uganda and Kenya will push Angola all the way, but if healthy Angola should prevail.
Group 11 : Tunisia, Malawi, Chad, Botswana
Tunisia will also be very pleased with their draw as their major competition will come in the form of minnows Malawi, who did have an impressive 2010 Cup of Nations. The Flames will struggle to keep up with the Carthage Eagles and end up battling with Botswana for second spot.
Three best runners-up