A shudder of anticipation and excitement rolled around Emperor’s Palace last night as Senegal were drawn to face West African rivals the Ivory Coast in a straight shoot out for a place at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
The battle between the Teranga Lions and the Elephants was by far the standout tie pulled out of the hat for the final qualifying round for Afcon 2013.
Thirty teams will go head-to-head in home and away legs in September and October for the right to the final 15 places alongside South Africa at the continental showpiece, which runs from January 19 to February 10 next year.
Senegal were always going to be the danger team for the top-seeded 15 sides in Thursday’s draw, and once Ivory Coast drew the short straw, so to speak, the disappointment for South Africans and all neutrals has to be that only one of these giants can now compete in the finals.
Still, there will no doubt be plenty of excitement in the streets of Abidjan and Dakar leading up to what promises to be a crackerjack showdown between some of the biggest names in African football, from Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba to Senegal’s Papi Demba Cisse.
As for the rest of the 2013 Nations Cup qualifying draw, reigning champions Zambia got what looks a fairly comfortable draw, and will face Uganda for a spot at the finals.
A potentially feisty North African derby was also drawn out of the hat, with Algeria going up against Libya, while there is also a renewing of rivalry between Sudan and Ethiopia.
Of Southern Africa’s other representatives, Botswana will have to take down Mali, who they lost to at the 2012 finals. Mozambique, meanwhile, go up against North African giants Morocco.
Another giant of the North of the continent, Tunisia, take on Sierra Leone, who have been a serious thorn in the side of Bafana Bafana in recent times.
Another thorn to Bafana, Niger, will have to get past Guinea if they are to set up any potential reunion with Bafana.
As for Bafana’s current World Cup 2014 rivals, the Central African Republic, they were the last name out of the hat. The CAR will face Burkina Faso for a place at the finals.
Bafana will play their group games in Johannesburg and Durban.
The Confederation of African Football general secretary Hicham El Amrani confirmed the venues on Thursday for all four groups at the finals.
Bafana are the only team who know their group, which is Group A, and all games there, confirmed EL Amrani, will take place at FNB Stadium and the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. The opening match, which will involve South Africa, is at FNB on January 19.
Port Elizabeth will host all the games in Group B, while Nelspruit will host those in Group C and Rustenburg will welcome Group D.
Draw for final qualifying round (first team listed play first leg at home)
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; DR Congo v Equatorial Guinea; Gabon v Togo; CAR v Burkina Faso
First leg to be played Sep 7-9; 2nd leg Oct 12-14