STEPHEN PHIRI, Lusaka
ZAMBIA will today know their opponents in the 2018 World Cup second round when the draws are conducted in St Petersburg, Russia.
The Chipolopolo are exempted from the first round scheduled for October this year.
They are among the 27 ranked teams from the 53 FIFA member associations in Africa.
The Confederation of African Football initially has 54 countries affiliated to FIFA but Zimbabwe were expelled from the preliminary competition after failing to pay dues of former national team coach Jose Claudinei Georgini.
The 26 teams in the first round will be divided into two pots comprising 13 highest ranked and 13 lowest teams.
The 13 highest ranked teams are Niger, Ethiopia, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Kenya, Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritania, Burundi, Lesotho, Guinea Bissau and Swaziland.
The other pot of lowest ranked teams will have Tanzania, Gambia, Liberia, Central African Republic, Chad, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe, South Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti.
Winners of the first round will join the 27 ranked teams and will clash in a two-legged play-off.
The 27 top ranked teams are Algeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Tunisia, Senegal, Cameroon, Congo, Cape Verde, Egypt, Nigeria, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, South Africa, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Rwanda, Togo, Morocco, Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, Benin, and Libya.
Since the start of the World Cup in 1930, Zambia has failed to qualify for the showpiece.
Zambia missed qualification by a whisker for the 1994 United States of America and 1998 France World Cup finals.
Needing a draw to qualify for the United States finals, Zambia lost 0-1 to Morocco in Rabat and also needed a draw to make it for the France showpiece but the Chipolopolo tumbled 0-3 to South Africa in Johannesburg.
In the 2014 Brazil World Cup race, Zambia were paired against Ghana, Lesotho and Sudan.
The Chipolopolo finished second in the group with 11 points, four behind Ghana, who went on to beat Egypt 7-3 in a play-off.
Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria represented Africa in Brazil.
STEPHEN PHIRI, Lusaka