The final soccer surge towards South Africa 2013 takes place this coming weekend when the last 15 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches are played across the continent. From Calabar to Kampala, from Luanda to Lilongwe, from Malabo to Marrakech, teams are vying for a place in Africa’s premier football tournament, which kicks off January 19th.

The winners of the 15 home-and-away ties will join South Africa, which earned an automatic berth as host of the African football jamboree.

Zambian players celebrate their Nations Cup championship in February.

In Kampala, African champion Zambia faces a dicey encounter against host Uganda. The Chipolopolo of Zambia, only eight months removed from their first African title, will try to protect a 1-0 advantage from the first leg last month. African football analyst David Legge says this should be a tense and exciting match, and his hunch is Zambia will go through to defend its trophy in South Africa.

Dieumerci Mbokani of the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the joint top scorers in 2013 Nations Cup qualifying with three goals. Mbokani is currently based in Belgium with the club Anderlecht.

Legge says Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo are “the bankers” to advance to South Africa 2013. Both teams have big leads going into their road matches. Mali is up 3-0 against Botswana, which made its Nations Cup debut earlier this year. The DRC, meanwhile, has a commanding 4-0 advantage against 2012 Nations Cup co-host Equatorial Guinea.

In Ouagadougou, 1998 Nations Cup host Burkina Faso is at home against Central African Republic. Legge reserves special praise for CAR, which has a 1-0 lead as it aims for its first Nations Cup appearance. He says Central African Republic pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Nations Cup qualifying when it eliminated seven-time African champion Egypt (4-3 on aggregate) in the first round. Legge says CAR has “a 50-50 chance” of making it to South Africa in January.