SHEFFIELD (Julio Chitunda’s African Message) - The race for places at the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 in Congo-Brazzaville is official underway.
A total of 27 national teams from all corners of Africa are either preparing or currently competing to be among the 16 teams competing in FIBA Africa's biggest basketball event from August 19-30.
However, by the end of this month, 12 national teams will have qualified, while the remaining two places will be attributed via a wild card allocation process.
Although neither Nigeria nor Congo-Brazzaville will take part in the Qualifiers, African champions Nigeria are expected to play a number of warm-up games against top-ranked teams.
Today's column brings you an update on the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 qualifiers. It shows who plays who; where; when, and it offers additional news such as teams that have withdrawn from the qualifiers.
FIBA Africa Zone 1
Following the withdrawal of Libya, it leaves Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as the teams competing for the two places on offer for Zone 1 national teams for Congo-Brazzaville.
This tournament will be played over two legs. The first leg will take place in Algeria (March 16-18) with the second leg to follow from March 24-26. The teams that finish first and second will qualify for the Final Round.
The link below shows a Tunisia v Morocco, often described as one of - if not - the most entertaining game of FIBA AfroBasket 2015.
FIBA Africa Zone 2
There are two places available for the Final Round for Zone 2 national teams, and Cape Verde, Guinea, Mali and Senegal will do battle to grab these spots for Brazzaville.
This regional qualifier will be played over two legs. The first leg will take place in the Malian capital of Bamako (March 17-19) with the second leg to follow from March 24–26 in Dakar, Senegal.
Although Cape Verde had originally withdrawn, the islanders have been admitted back into the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 Zone 2 race.
After suffering a double-defeat to Mali during the Qualifiers two years ago, Senegal are making sure to use some of their key players to avoid further disappointment.
FIBA Africa Zone 3
Niger last participated in FIBA Africa's flagship tournament in 1968 and although they have tried to qualify a number of times they have fallen short.
Along with Togo, Niger decided to pull out of the regional qualifier, leaving Benin, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire to compete for the only ticket on offer for Brazzaville.
The qualifier will be played over two legs. The first leg will take place in Benin (March 16-18) with the second leg to follow from March 24–26 in Cote d'Ivoire.
FIBA Africa Zone 4
The Central African Republic (CAF) will host FIBA Africa Zone 4 Group D in a two-game series against the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Following the withdrawal of Equatorial Guinea, both CAF and RD Congo will compete for the only ticket for Brazzaville. The regional qualifier will run from March 18-24.
In FIBA Africa Zone 4 Group E, Chad, Gabon and hosts Cameroon will do battle for the only place on offer for the Final Round. The qualifier will run from March 24-29.
FIBA Africa Zone 5
Over the weekend, seven national teams from Zone 5 - Egypt, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya - began a race to secure the two tickets for Congo-Brazzaville showpiece.
In the opening game of the round-robin format tournament, hosts Egypt beat South Sudan 87-76 on Sunday. The qualifier will run through March 18 without Somalia, who withdrew.
FIBA Africa Zones 6 and 7
The Zambian capital of Lusaka will host FIBA Africa Zone 6 Group G. Following the withdrawal of Seychelles, Angola, South Africa and hosts Zambia will be competing for the only ticket on offer for Congo-Brazzaville. The tournament will run from March 25-30.
Meanwhile, FIBA Africa Zone 6 Group H national teams will convene in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare from 19-25 March.
Following the withdrawal of Botswana, Madagascar, Mozambique and hosts Zimbabwe will fight for the top place, which ensures a passport to Congo-Brazzaville.
However, the teams that finish second in Zone 6 groups G and H will have a second chance to advance to the FIBA AfroBasket 2017 Final Round by facing each other.
Follow the FIBA AfroBasket qualifiers action by clicking here.
By Julio Chitunda for FIBA.com