Tournament favourites Côte d’Ivoire were grouped with Sudan, Burkina Faso and Angola in Saturday’s draw for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
World Cup quarterfinalists Ghana were drawn alongside Cup newcomers Botswana, Mali and Guinea for the 16-team African championship in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, which kicks off on January 21.
Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana avoided the likes of Senegal, Morocco and Tunisia in a kind draw for the two main contenders.
In Group A, co-hosts Equatorial Guinea will open the tournament in Bata on their Cup of Nations debut against surprise qualifiers Libya. Senegal and Zambia make up the group.
Gabon will face Niger — also first-time qualifiers — and North African hopes Morocco and Tunisia in Group C. Morocco and Tunisia open their campaigns against each other on January 23.
In the absence of three-time defending champions Egypt and former winners Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa — who all failed to qualify — top-ranked African team Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are tipped to meet in the February 12 final in the Gabon capital of Libreville.
Côte d’Ivoire will start their quest for a second African title, and first since 1992, against Sudan in Group B. Ghana will play Botswana first up in Group D.
Equatorial Guinea play Libya and Senegal face Zambia in the opening two games of the tournament, which are set to be played back-to-back at the same stadium on January 21.
The top two teams from each group will qualify for the quarterfinals, with the tournament played across four cities: Bata and Malabo in Equatorial Guinea and Libreville and Franceville in Gabon.
Ghana is the most successful team at the 2012 edition with four Africa Cup of Nations crowns. Tunisia, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco have all won the competition once.
Burkina Faso’s place at the tournament was confirmed by the Confederation of African Football after the ruling body rejected an appeal by Namibia over an ineligible player in the Burkinabe squad. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) said the protest from the Namibians — who lost out to Burkina Faso in qualifying — did not follow correct procedure and was therefore rejected.
President Ali Bongo of Gabon and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea attended Saturday’s draw, which was overseen by CAF president Issa Hayatou. — Sapa-AP