Nigeria and South Africa are among the big names aiming to put aside Africa Cup of Nations disappointment and make a strong start to 2018 World Cup qualifying.
The Super Eagles and Bafana Bafana will be notable absentees from next year’s Nations Cup finals in Gabon.
Both are former African champions and will want to seek redemption by filling two of the five African places at the next World Cup in Russia.
Five four-team mini-leagues will decide the African entrants, with the winners of each booking their place.
Five-time World Cup qualifiers Nigeria have a tough task after being placed with Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia.
They kick off their campaign against Zambia tomorrow and have already been warned by the opposition that they will not finds it easy.
Veteran Zambia goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene has rejected media suggestions that the Chipolopolo are in Group B just to make up the numbers.
“When the media say you are no-hopers and certain to finish last, that motivates you,” he said ahead of the game in central city Ndola.
“Deep down, Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria know it is not going to be easy playing against us. Being outsiders suits us just fine.”
Caretaker Zambia coach Wedson Nyirenda rewarded Zesco United for reaching the Champions League semi-finals against the odds by including seven of their stars.
Zambia also failed to reach the 2017 Nations Cup, coming third in a group won by minnows Guinea Bissau, so the pressure on Nyirenda is almost as much as that on opposite number Gernot Rohr.
“Do not forget that Zambia are a big team, too,” stressed Germany-born Nigeria coach Rohr, the recent successor to Sunday Oliseh in one of the hottest African coaching seats. “They were the 2012 Nations Cup winners.
“The group is open, but I think the motivation of the Nigerian team is very high. Time is not on my side, but it is possible to build a very good team.”
Injuries have ruled out English Premier League pair Isaac Success and Victor Moses, but Manchester City teenage star Kelechi Iheanacho is poised to start.