Africa's 209-match qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa starts on Sunday in Madagascar as they host the Comoros.
Madagascar and Comoros begin Africa's 2010 World Cup qualifiers
Stars like Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and Michael Essien will be idle as the three-phase qualifying competition kicks off with the solitary fixture between the Indian Ocean islands.
Sierra Leone meet Guinea Bissau Wednesday and Djibouti tackle Somalia next month in other first round ties and the aggregate winners join 45 nations in the second round draw to be staged by 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa.
The 25 November ceremony in Durban will create 12 four-team groups with the winners and best eight runners-up advancing to a final pool phase destined to deliver the five World Cup qualifiers.
2010 Preliminary first leg qualifiers
14 Oct: Madagascar v Comoros
17 Oct: S Leone v G Bissau
17 Nov: Djibouti v Somalia
Note: Tie reduced to one leg owing to civil war in Somalia
South Africa will compete because the World Cup fixtures also serve as qualifiers for the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola, but Bafana Bafana are guaranteed a place as hosts among the 32-strong World Cup field.
This will give Africa six representatives at the quadrennial showpiece of international football for the first time.
The prospects of Madagascar or Comoros reaching the World Cup finals are remote given their lowly football status in Africa and disappointing recent results.
Ranked 46 out of 53 African countries, Madagascar lost all four 2008 Nations Cup qualifiers against Ivory Coast and Gabon, conceding 14 goals and failing to score even once.
Coaches were hired and fired with ridiculous regularity and Madagascar must be grateful they are facing an island nation making its World Cup qualifying debut and ranked 48 in Africa.
Madagascar will enjoy the psychological advantage of a 3-0 victory over Comoros last August in a regional championship, but the losers have proved fast learners since being admitted to international football two years ago.
It will be the seventh appearance of Madagascar in a World Cup qualifying competition and while boasting a home record of six wins, two draws and three losses, they have triumphed just once in 11 away outings.