Taxing World Cup start for African qualifiers

December 7, 2007

JOHANNESBURG, Dec 7 (Reuters) - African countries will have to play their first four qualifying matches for the 2010 World Cup finals on successive weekends, FIFA confirmed on Friday.

The first group phase of the qualifiers begin at the end of May and conclude in September.

The four weekends of June will be used for the first four rounds of group matches, presenting a potential logistical headache for teams having to criss-cross the continent.

'We have written to FIFA seeking clarification of this,' said South African Football Association chief executive officer Raymond Hack. 'It seems a little tough on the players.'

Poor flight connections, which often turn traveling to international matches into multi-day and multi-stop expeditions, are likely to cause consternation among coaches.

African sides often find it easier have to travel via Europe South Africa are the first host nation to participate in the World Cup preliminaries since Italy in 1934.

Although they automatically qualify for the 2010 World Cup, the preliminaries are also being used to determine the 16 teams for the African Nations Cup finals in Angola in 2010.

The 48 African countries left in the race for place at the World Cup are divided into 12 groups. The winners and eight best placed runners-up go through to the second league phase after October.

The final 20 teams will be divided into five groups from which the winners qualify for the World Cup. The top three in each group join host Angola in the Nations Cup field.