Africa’s first competitive internationals for 12 months begin on Wednesday with the resumption of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign.
A total of 48 matches are set to take place in the upcoming international break with teams playing the third and fourth rounds of the group stage of the qualifiers.
Several nations have turned to new coaches to drive their bid to qualify for the finals in Cameroon.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has played havoc with not only the qualifiers but the final tournament as well.
There are still four rounds to be competed to determine field of 24 for the final tournament, which has already been put back one year until 2022.
Zambia surprisingly got off to a poor start last November, losing their opening two qualifiers in Group H to holders Algeria, where they were handed a heavy hiding, and then at home to neighbours Zimbabwe.
They have turned to Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevich, the Serbian who ensured Uganda’s qualification to the finals in Gabon in 2017 after an absence of almost forty years.
He has been tasked with to pushing the country back into a top two finish and starts this week with a double header against Botswana.
“This is a country of unbelievable football potential and an enormous amount of talent plus a football culture that really lives and loves the game whole heartedly,” Sredojevich told the BBC.
“You must believe it when I tell you that every day I wake up and feel I have to do something for the game here.
“It is true that the job is enormous, and I have no words to express the feeling of carrying the hopes of 18-million Zambians on my shoulders.”
Zimbabwe, despite their positive start to the qualifying campaign under Joey Antipas, who spent 12 months in charge, have since appointed the Croatian Zdravko Logarusic to the post.
He was in Harare for a handful of weeks before the Covid-19 lockdown and then returned two months ago.
He has picked a strong squad for this week’s trip to Algieria and the return match against the reigning African champions next week.
“At this moment Algeria are really the best but I want to see where we are now. We don’t know where we are,” he told reporters in Harare at the weekend.
Logarusic’s old job in Sudan has now been taken by Hubert Velud, the Frenchman who had Champions League success with TP Mazembe and was coach of Togo when their teams was attacked in Cabinda at the 2010 finals.
Velud has a tough start with Sudan with two matches against Ghana as they battle to stay in contention in Group D but has had the advantage of working regularly with his players.
Sudan’s squad is almost exclusively drawn from home based players and Velud has had regular camps.
Kenya’s Harambee Stars appointed Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee as their new coach just over a fortnight ago.
He returns for the fifth time in charge of his country’s national team, but has little time to prepare as his side take on the Comoros Islands.
“It is everybody’s pride to be associated with the national team and I was ready always to serve my nation any time I am called upon,” he told BBC Sport Africa.
“We have different targets, the first off course is to qualify for the African Cup of Nations that is the short term target. In the long term off course is the World Cup which is a big shot – but you never know.”
Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Eswatini, Burundi, Chad
Ethiopia appointed Wubetu Abate as their new coach in September and he too has had little time to prepare against Niger.
Equatorial Guinea, who take on Libya, had announced former Portugal international Jorge Costa as their coach in September but it turned out to be before a deal had been struck.
Since then, Gaston Ndong Edu Akumu has been handed the position and is the first local in charge of the Nzalang Nacional since Carlos Akapo in 2011.
Ali El Margini moved up in September from his previous job as assistant to the veteran Tunisian Faouzi Benzarti to take over as Libya coach.
Domenic Kunene was appointed Eswatini’s new coach in January but has yet to have a game in charge and will be on the backfoot in two difficult matches against Congo.
Burundi only named their new coach – Jimmy Ndayizeye – a week ago as they travel to Mauritania for one of the opening matches on Wednesday.
Ndayizeye was coach of the Messager Ngozi, who won the league title in June. Strangely he will have Alain Olivier Niyungeko, who led Burundi to their debut appearance at the last finals in Egypt in 2019, as one of his assistants.
Chad did not renew the contract of Frenchman Emmanuel Tregoat last month and have replaced him with Djimtan Yamtamadji, who had the post briefly before.