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Record seven-time champions Egypt will be shock absentees when the final qualifying round draw for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa is made here on Thursday.
The Pharaohs, whose seven titles include an unequalled three in a row between 2006 and 2010, were ousted by the Wild Beasts from the Central African Republic last weekend.
Egypt forced a 1-1 draw in Bangui, but the damage had been done in Alexandria two weeks before when they lost 3-2 against opponents who played more than half the game a man short after midfielder Salif Keita was red carded.
The 4-3 aggregate defeat means the vast Arab nation will miss consecutive Cup of Nations tournaments for only the second time since the tournament was launched 55 years ago in Sudanese capital Khartoum.
It will also be a blow to the South Africans organisers of the Cup as it would have been much easier to ‘sell’ names like Essam Al Hadary and Mohamed Abou Treika to the public than Foxi Kethevoama and Hilaire Momi.
Goalkeeper Al Hadary and midfielder Abou Treika have been among the best African footballers in their positions for more than a decade while goal poachers Kethevoama and Momi are virtual unknowns outside their homeland.
Apart from Egypt, 1972 champions Congo Brazzaville are the only winners of the competition out of the running for a place at the 2013 finals having surrendered a two-goal first-leg lead when crumbling 4-0 in Uganda last month.
South Africa are automatic qualifiers for the January 19-February 10 Cup of Nations and the draw at a cafe in a huge entertainment complex near Johannesburg international airport will split 30 countries into 15 home-and-away ties.
Defending champions Zambia head a list of 15 seeded nations that includes Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia.
The unseeded countries are Botswana, Cape Verde Islands, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Apart from pairing off the countries, there will be a separate draw to decide which one has home advantage first in the final round scheduled for the weekends of September 7-9 and October 12-14 this year.
Equatorial Guinea are ranked 31 in Africa and appear the weakest seeds — a position they owe to reaching the last eight when they co-hosted the 2012 tournament with Gabon.
Unseeded teams best avoided would include Libya (ranked 4), Senegal (12), Central African Republic (22) and Ethiopia (39), the lowest ranked country to make the final round.
The seemingly odd situation where Libya are unseeded and Equatorial Guinea seeded is explained by the organisers considering results from the last three Cup of Nations tournaments and not the monthly FIFA Africa rankings.
Just two of the 30 survivors — unseeded Central African Republic and Cape Verde Islands — have never qualified for the finals and while the Wild Beasts were eliminating Egypt, the Blue Sharks from Cape Verde devoured Madagascar.
Libya were originally due to stage the next Cup of Nations in 2014, but the popular rebellion that toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi also reduced some infrastructure to rubble, so 2017 hosts South Africa exchanged dates.
Held in even-number years since Ethiopia staged the 1968 finals, the Cup of Nations switches to uneven-number years from 2013 to avoid every second tournament being staged in the same year as a World Cup.