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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ABIDJAN: Hosts Ivory Coast were joined in Group A by Nigeria in the draw for the Africa Cup of Nations in Abidjan on Thursday.
Fast-improving Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, who have qualified for a fourth straight edition, complete the mini-league.
Other heavyweight pairings included defending champions Senegal with five-time winners Cameroon, while Africa’s first World Cup semifinalists Morocco face the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ivory Coast, seeking a third Cup of Nations title, will meet Guinea-Bissau in the opening match on Jan. 13 in Abidjan, the economic hub.
The Ivorian clash with three-time champions Nigeria will attract most attention among the six Group A fixtures.
Nigeria were last crowned Cup of Nations winners in 2013 in South Africa and the Ivory Coast succeeded them two years later in Equatorial Guinea.
Morocco were drawn in Group F with DR Congo, Zambia and Tanzania.
The Atlas Lions have won the premier African football competition only once, in 1976. Their best performance since then was finishing runners-up to 2004 hosts Tunisia.
Defending champions Senegal are in Group C with five-time winners Cameroon, Guinea and the Gambia.
South Africa will face Tunisia, Mali and Namibia in Group E while Ghana take on Egypt, Cape Verde and Mozambique in Group B.
Group D, comprising Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Angola, completes the lineup for a tournament that will reach a climax with the final on Feb. 11.
Senegalese-American singer Akon hosted the draw, assisted by current and former African stars Sadio Mane, Achraf Hakimi, Didier Drogba and Mikel John Obi.
Ivory Coast are hosting the premier African sport event for a second time, and hoping for much better results than in 1984.
Then, the Elephants began with a convincing victory over Togo, but losses to Egypt and eventual champions Cameroon meant elimination after the first round.
It was the only time in nine hostings of the Cup of Nations in west Africa that the home country failed to reach the knockout stage.
Just eight nations featured in that edition — — a third of the number who will arrive in the west African country for the next edition.
The tournament should have taken place already as it was originally scheduled for June and July this year.
But had it gone ahead, matches would have been staged during the rainy season and CAF president Patrice Motsepe said “it was too great a risk to play matches in potential downpours.”
He admitted moving the two-yearly tournament to January and February was “not ideal as it clashes with the European club season.”
This means stars like Mohamed Salah of Liverpool and Victor Osimhen of Napoli could be absent from their clubs for five weeks, depending on how record seven-time champions Egypt and Nigeria fare.
Ivory Coast will stage the Cup of Nations at six stadiums — two in Abidjan and one each in Bouake, administrative capital Yamoussoukro, Korhogo and San Pedro.
Friendly fixtures meant many coaches, including Aliou Cisse of Senegal and Rigobert Song of Cameroon, were unable to attend the draw.
Ivory Coast (hosts), Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau
Egypt, Ghana, Cape Verde, Mozambique
Senegal (holders), Cameroon, Guinea, Gambia
Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Angola
Tunisia, Mali, South Africa, Namibia
Morocco, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Tanzania
— Group winners and runners-up and the four highest ranked third-placed teams qualify for knockout stage.
— Tournament kicks off on January 13 and ends on February 11, with matches at six stadiums in five cities.
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