JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Nov 19 – Lowly ranked Burundi and Lesotho are among 23 countries chasing 11 places at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations tournament during the final qualifying round in March.
The penultimate series of matches at the weekend ended with 13 countries, including first-time qualifiers Mauritania, securing places and former champions Zambia eliminated.
Burundi need a point at home against fellow contenders Gabon and Lesotho require a win in Cape Verde to be certain of reaching the finals of the newly-expanded 24-nation tournament in Cameroon.
The Burundian Swallows are ranked 40th and the Lesotho Crocodiles 43rd of 54 African football nations.
AFP Sport looks at the eight groups where places are up for grabs with qualifiers guaranteed at least $475,000 (415,000 euros) prize money.
While Burundi are on the rise with six-goal Fiston Abdul Razak the joint leading scorer in qualifying, Gabon have been struggling with the team’s star, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, missing matches.
The Arsenal striker did not travel to South Sudan because he was unhappy with the state of the chartered plane and an injury ruled him out of the damaging weekend home loss to Mali.
Benin are better placed than Togo and the Gambia in a three-way fight between the west African teams to join 1990 champions Algeria at the finals.
The Beninese have two points more than their rivals and will enjoy home advantage against Togo while the Gambia must win in Algeria to have a chance of finishing second.
Only a win will suffice for Libya while South Africa need one point when the teams clash to determine who goes through along with three-time champions Nigeria.
Violence in Libya in the post-Moamer Kadhafi era means Libya cannot stage the match in Tripoli and the Mediterranean city Sfax is the probable venue.
The FIFA ban of Sierra Leone because of government interference continues to cloud a group in which Ghana and Kenya appear the likely qualifiers.
Sierra Leone could become challengers if the suspension is lifted soon and they are allowed to continue, but Ethiopia are out of contention after three losses in five matches.
This is the most intriguing of the eight mini-leagues where places are on the line with only three points separating leaders Zimbabwe from bottom-place Congo Brazzaville.
Zimbabwe and the third-place Democratic Republic of Congo play at home in the final round and are widely expected to defeat Congo Brazzaville and Liberia respectively and qualify.
The historic qualification of Mauritania leaves second-placed Angola and 2013 Cup of Nations runners-up Burkina Faso competing for the other berth.
An Angolan win away to bottom side Botswana will seal a top-two finish, but any other result would open the door for the Burkinabe, provided they beat the Mauritanians in Ouagadougou.
Despite winning twice against 2012 champions Zambia, Mozambique are likely to be the losers in a three-way contest with Guinea-Bissau and Namibia for two places.
Guinea-Bissau should at least draw at home against a Mozambican side coached by former Liverpool and Everton defender Abel Xavier, sending them and Namibia to Cameroon.
Lesotho rose from last to second by beating Tanzania and would secure an unexpected finals place if they succeed away to Cape Verde, who must win to have any chance.
Tanzania, seeking a return to the Cup of Nations after 39 years, have to beat Uganda, who have not conceded a goal in five matches, in Dar es Salaam to have a realistic chance.