France superstar Kylian Mbappe (C) is surrounded by Moroccans during a 2022 World Cup semi-final in Qatar (Odd ANDERSEN)
Shock 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Morocco and 53 other African nations will discover on Wednesday who they must overcome to qualify for the next edition in Canada, Mexico and the USA.
A seeded draw in Abidjan will divide the 54 hopefuls into nine groups of six with all the first-placed teams securing places at the 2026 finals.
The best four runners-up then go into play-offs and the winners join five other teams in an inter-confederation tournament with two World Cup places up for grabs.
Were an African team to fill one of those slots, the continent will have a record 10 representatives at the 2026 finals, up from five in Qatar last year.
Morocco, the first semi-finalists from Africa, Cameroon, Senegal and Tunisia featured at the 2022 tournament and are among the nine first seeds for the draw.
But the fifth African participants, Ghana, miss out and, along with eight other teams including South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have to settle for being second seeds.
Seeding for the Abidjan draw is based on the June FIFA world rankings and four-time World Cup qualifiers Ghana lie 11th.
Mali were the big winners in the rankings, climbing two places to eighth in Africa after a 2-0 victory over Congo Brazzaville in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
Winning gave the Malians top-seed status and relegated Burkina Faso, 3-1 losers to Cape Verde in another Cup of Nations match, to second seeds.
– Avoid giants –
The advantage of being among the nine top seeds is avoiding the giants of African football like Morocco and Senegal, last-16 losers to England in Qatar.
Lacking injured star Sadio Mane, Senegal did not match pre-tournament expectations, losing to the Netherlands in a group game and being outplayed by England.
But the disappointing showing by the Cup of Nations title-holders was forgotten as Morocco made history.
They topped a group including 2018 runners-up Croatia and star-stacked Belgium, then ousted Spain and Portugal before offering brave resistance before falling to France in the semi-finals.
Morocco made history despite a late change of coaches with Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic axed and Walid Regragui taking over having led Wydad Casablanca to the CAF Champions League title.
After Morocco finished fourth in Qatar, France-born Regragui predicted Africa would end the European-South American monopoly of the World Cup “in 15 to 20 years”.
While all 54 CAF member nations have officially entered the draw, Zimbabwe have been suspended by FIFA since February 2022 due to government interference in football.
Unless the ban is lifted before the first two matchdays this November, the southern Africa country cannot take part.
When the 2023 Cup of Nations qualifying draw was made, Zimbabwe were included in the hope that talks would lead to the suspension falling away, but this did not happen and they were barred.
Zimbabwe were banned from 2018 World Cup qualifying after failing to pay a former national coach, Brazilian Jose Claudinei Georgini.