CAPE TOWN, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The African qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia will begin in October, while the road to the next African Nations Cup finals gets under way in June, the Confederation of African Football confirmed on Thursday.
The 52 African nations expected to enter the World Cup qualifiers will go through three preliminary rounds starting in nine months time after the draw in St Petersburg on July 25.
That will narrow the field down to the final 20 teams, who will be spilt into five groups each containing four sides, with the victors of those round-robin pools claiming a place at the finals.
CAF also confirmed the format of the qualification campaign for the next Nations Cup in 2017 that has yet to have a host after Libya was stripped of their status due to ongoing civil unrest in the country.
In a change from past tournaments, the host country will participate in the qualifying stages, though their matches will be considered friendlies and no points awarded.
The 52 nations will this time be divided into 13 groups containing four sides each, with the top team in each pool advancing to the finals, as well as the two best runners-up.
The exception will be the group of the host country, from which only one team will be eligible to advance.
The hosts for the 2017 finals will be known on April 8 after the CAF Ordinary General Assembly in Cairo. The draw for the qualification groups will be done directly after that announcement. (Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Justin Palmer)