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AFCON 2019 kicks off in March

FOOTBALL By AFP | February 7th 2017
The winner's trophy is on display prior to the start of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations final football match between Egypt and Cameroon at the Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on February 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO

As the curtain fell Sunday on the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, teams were already preparing for the first 2019 qualifiers next month.

Minnows Comoros, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mauritius, Sao Tome e Principe and South Sudan will get the ball rolling with two-leg ties between March 20 and 28.

The other 44 contenders for 15 places in Cameroon come on board in June, when the first round of group games takes place.

Among the most attractive mini-leagues is Group E, which comprises Nigeria, South Africa, Libya and the Seychelles.

Former champions Nigeria and South Africa were notable absentees from the 2017 tournament, having failed to qualify.

Nigeria came a distant second behind Egypt in one group and South Africa fared even worse in another, trailing Cameroon and Mauritania in third place.

Neighbours Congo Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo are in Group G with Zimbabwe and Liberia.

Having finished a disappointing fourth in Gabon, Ghana tackle Ethiopia, Kenya and Sierra Leone in Group F.

There will be 12 four-team groups and all the winners after six match days go to Cameroon, plus the best three runners-up.

Cameroon qualify automatically as hosts, but will compete in the qualifying competition to gain precious match practice.

The central African nation are staging the competition for a second time, 47 years after they first hosted it.

Much about the Cup of Nations has changed since the 1972 tournament, including an increase in qualifiers from eight to 16 and far greater media coverage.

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