Race to 2013 Africa Cup of Nations begins

The World Cup stadium in Durban which may be used for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations

The race to qualify for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations begins on Wednesday with 13 matches taking place across the continent.

Half of Africa's contenders are taking part, as the teams which did not make it to the 2012 tournament play-off to go into the hat with those that did.

That means giants like Cameroon and Nigeria will be in action, along with minnows such as Seychelles.

These are first leg matches, with the second legs being played in June.

Nigeria are in Rwanda,where the Super Eagles will attempt to begin the rebuilding process after the humiliation of failing to reach the 2012 Nations Cup.

That cost coach Samson Siasia his job and new boss Stephen Keshi has drafted in some old faces - like Yakubu Ayegbeni - and has some new names - like Victor Moses - available as well.

Rwanda's coach Milutin 'Micho' Sredrojevic acknowledges that it will be a hugely difficult task for his side, taking on Nigeria.

"We are playing against giants of African football - wounded lions. They have an iron defence, a very creative midfield and very dangerous attackers," the coach said.

But he said all the pressure would be on Keshi's team to perform.

Cameroon were another former power of African football who were not involved in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

They go to Guinea-Bissau for the opening match of their attempt to reach the 2013 Nations Cup.

Samuel Eto'o is missing of course, because he is serving a long ban, and there are a whole host of other players who are also absent in the wake of the strike action taken by the national team last year.

Zimbabwe have had well publicised problems with their squad, following the match-fixing scandal which has gripped football in the country - so a much reduced squad has headed to Burundi under a new coach.

Uganda came very close to making it to the 2012 finals but dropped out of contention at the last moment - so they will be determined to take the chance to make it to 2013 and begin their campaign with a trip to Congo Brazzaville.

Kenya, Uganda's great rivals, have hopes of reasserting themselves on the continental stage after a long-drawn out dispute over who runs football in the country, but their build-up to the home game against Togo on Wednesday has been disrupted by a row over unpaid expenses.

The argument has led to the withdrawal from the squad of the Harambee Stars' top-midfielder McDonald Mariga.

In other matches, Ethiopia host Benin; Malawi travel to Chad - where they conceded a last minute equaliser which cost them a place at the 2012 tournament.

Tanzania host Mozambique; Cape Verde are in Madagascar; Namibia travel to Liberia; Sierra Leone go to Sao Tome and Seychelles host DR Congo.

Former champions Egypt - who must also go through qualifying after failing to make it to the 2012 Nations Cup - have had their opening match against Central African Republic delayed until June following the tragedy in Port Said earlier this year.