The road to Qatar begins for Africa's giants on Tuesday at the World Cup 2022 qualifying group-stage draw at the The Nile Ritz-Carlton in Cairo.
The event, which begins at 19:00 CAT, will decide the 10 qualifying groups for the second round of the campaign, as the continent's top ranked sides join the minnows to have advanced from the preliminaries.
Here's all you need to know ahead of one of the biggest evenings in the African football calendar.
What's happened so far?
While Tuesday's draw marks the entrance of the continent's top 26 teams as per the FIFA World Rankings of July 2019, which were used to decide the seeding, it isn't the start of Africa's qualifying campaign.
In September 2019, the continent's 28 lowest ranked sides competed in a series of double-headers to decide which 14 teams advanced to the group stage.
Togo were the only former World Cup qualifiers to compete, and they duly progressed with a 3-1 victory over the improving Comoros, while Burundi were arguably the biggest fallers.
Only three months after making their first appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations, the East Africans were felled on penalties by Tanzania as they were brought back to earth with a jolt.
Zimbabwe, who had been the highest ranked team not to receive a bye to the second round, nearly joined them in elimination, only for a late comeback in Harare -- including a 90th-minute winner from Khama Billiat -- to send them into the hat for Tuesday's draw.
What's the format?
Despite Gianni Infantino discussing the prospect of there being 48 nations at the 2022 World Cup as recently as April, FIFA have decided on only 32 finalists for the tournament, with the expansion pushed back to the 2026 edition.
This has left Africa with only five qualifying spots for the 40 nations still standing.
On Tuesday, they'll be drawn into 10 groups of four teams, with all nations seeded in four pots of 10 ahead of the draw according to their Fifa rankings.
The group stage is due to run from October 2020 to October 2021, and the 10 group winners will then be drawn against one another - again on a seeding basis as per the world rankings - to contest five double-headers.
These playoffs, which are scheduled for November 2021, will then decide Africa's five representatives in Qatar.
Who are the top seeds?
Almost all of the usual suspects find themselves in Pot One -- and therefore in the most favourable position -- ahead of the draw, with Africa Cup of Nations finalists Senegal and champions Algeria the two teams to avoid.
The Teranga Lions impressed at the last World Cup -- only falling at the first hurdle due to yellow cards accumulated -- and gave a good account of themselves at the Nations Cup, only narrowly falling to Algeria in the final.
While Les Fennecs proved themselves to be Africa's strongest team across 2019, several of their key players are the wrong side of 30, and they may struggle to replicate that intensity throughout the qualifying campaign, let alone to the World Cup itself in two years.
Serial World Cup qualifiers Tunisia, Morocco (both five), Nigeria (six) and Cameroon (seven) are also in Pot One, as are Mali, the only team among the 10 seeds never to have qualified before.
The most vulnerable top seeds appear to be Ghana (three-time qualifiers) and the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose sole showing at the tournament -- as Zaire -- came in 1974.
The Black Stars recently appointed former captain Charles Akonnor as head coach following a decision taken by new FA president Kurt Okraku to dismiss all acting national-team coaches, and while the 45-year-old knows local football well, this is his first international assignment as a number one.
The DR Congo's best chance of ending their over-four-decade wait for a return to the World Cup was surely ahead of the 2018 event, when their failure to hold a two-goal lead against Tunisia at home cost them the initiative in a winnable group.
Long-serving coach Florent Ibenge has now departed, and it remains to be seen whether Christian Nsengi-Biembe can reinvigorate a Leopards project that had appeared to lose steam.
Dangers in Pot Two
The Ivory Coast, notable by their absence from Pot One, are the most dangerous threat among the non-seeded teams, and all of the continent's 'top 10' will want to avoid the Elephants.
Admittedly, they've struggled in the aftermath of their Nations Cup victory of 2015, as Michel Dussuyer and Marc Wilmots squandered the potential of that fine side, but they still boast quality across the park and notable strength in depth.
They were unfortunate to fall in the quarter finals of the Afcon in Egypt last year, where they held eventual champions Algeria -- the only team to do so -- before eventually falling on penalties.
Nicolas Pepe and Wilfried Zaha are two of Africa's elite players, while the likes of Serge Aurier, Jean Seri, Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Eric Bailly are still young enough to bounce back after setbacks in recent years.
South Africa haven't actually qualified for a World Cup since 2002 -- they were present as hosts in 2010 -- but must be taken seriously after an encouraging Nations Cup run in which they ousted Egypt before falling to Nigeria.
Stuart Baxter may have departed, but his replacement Molefi Ntseki oversaw victories over Mali and Sudan in late 2019, and now has to demonstrate that the Afcon showing can unite a fractured fanbase and be a platform for future success.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Gabon can outgun teams on their day, but lack consistency and rarely seem a happy camp, while Benin demonstrated at the Afcon that -- with organisation and physicality -- they can grind out wins against the big boys.
No East African nation has ever qualified for the World Cup, but Uganda are better placed than any other side from the region has been for many years.
They defeated Egypt at home in the 2018 qualifying programme, made the knockouts at the 2019 Afcon after navigating a tricky group, and are in the third stage of their evolution under Johnny McKinstry following the fine work of his predecessors Sebastien Desabre and Milutin Sredojevic.
Any other pitfalls?
Both Angola and Togo are down in Pot Four, but having qualified for the World Cup before (both in 2006) they are proof that the continent's lesser lights can reach the big time if they navigate their way through qualification with organisation, a cutting edge... and luck.
One of the most intriguing subplots of the World Cup qualifying campaign will be how those teams in Pots Three and Four who qualified for the 2019 Afcon build on that experience and demonstrate that rubbing shoulders with the continent's bigger teams in a tournament environment has led to improvement.
Can East African duo Kenya and Tanzania, both of whom are boosted by big-name players in Victor Wanyama and Aston Villa signing Mbwana Ally Samatta, maintain the momentum of their successful Afcon qualifying campaigns, and can Madagascar stun the continent's giants again as they have on occasion over the last two years?
The Harambee Stars, in particular, defeated Ghana in September 2018 and held Egypt away in November, so have shown that they know how to get results against stronger sides.
Ethiopia, down in Pot Four, will be buoyed after a recent 2-1 victory over the Ivory Coast in November's Afcon qualifier, and Pot Three's Libya, despite playing their home games in Tunisia in light of the nation's civil war, remain gritty and obstinate opponents.
Finally, keep an eye out for Zimbabwe; they may have been given an almighty scare by Somalia in the first round, but their 2-1 victory in Zambia in November proved that lessons have been learned, and they can be exhilarating, going forward, on their day.
African World Cup draw: Complete seedings
Pot 1: Senegal, Tunisia, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Egypt, Cameroon, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo
Pot 2: Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, South Africa, Guinea, Uganda, Cape Verde, Gabon, Benin, Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville
Pot 3: Madagascar, Mauritania, Libya, Mozambique, Kenya, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Niger, Namibia, Guinea-Bissau
Pot 4: Malawi, Angola, Togo, Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Djibouti