The draw for next year's African Cup of Nations tournament in Angola has been made, and a few interesting groups have emerged.The draw took place on Friday afternoon in Luanda, Angola, the host country for the continental showpiece, which begins on 10 January and ends on 31 January.
The COCAN – the Organizing Committee of the competition coordinated the draw ceremony to find the four groups containing four teams each.
Angola have built stadiums in Luanda, Benguela, Cabinda and Lubango for the 32-fixture tournament with the opening match and final to be played at the 50 000-seater in the capital.
The major teams missing out on this draw were the likes of Senegal, Congo, Morocco and South Africa. Aside from those sides, who will disappointingly watch from their respective countries, the usual favourites of Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Tunisia, Egypt and Ivory Coast are in the tournament, while impressive sides in Algeria, Mali, Gabon and hosts Angola look menacing.
Underdogs Benin, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Togo and Zambia will be hoping to make some noise, and the surprising entrants Malawi will be keen to continue their fairytale with a few positive results, 25 years after their last participation.
Angola was automatically in Group A as hosts, playing all of their group stage matches in Luanda. The other seeded teams were Cameroon, Egypt and Ivory Coast, setting up a possible meeting between some of those nations and the giants of Ghana and Nigeria.
The draw put Angola in a group with Mali, Malawi and World Cup bound Algeria. Speaking to Al Jazeera Sport after the draw, Angola coach Manuel Jose said, "I am satisfied with the draw. It is a balanced group. It will not be easy. All our adversaries are known to be combative. Algeria with us, they are doing well currently. Mali will be a difficult competitor. We will try to get one of the first two places to qualify.”
Group B matches will be played in Cabinda, and one of those enticing encounters will be between Ivory Coast and Ghana, two of the favourites for the tournament. Al Jazeera Sport spoke to Ivory Coast coach Vahid Halilhodzic, and he said, “It’s one of the most difficult groups. But we will be there to win all our matches. This will also be the case for Ghana. There are very competitive squads, therefore our mission will not be easy. My favourites for the title are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Angola and Egypt.”
Benguela will host all the matches in Group C, which will include a fiery battle between Nigeria and Egypt. Finally, Lubango will host matches between Cameroon, Gabon, Zambia and Tunisia, allowing the Gabonese to have a shot at revenge over the Indomitable Lions.
Alain Giresse, coach of Gabon said to Al Jazeera Sport, “It’s a sign, it’s to be believed that the two countries are inseparable. They know each other well, and one will try to benefit from it. Tunisia is an adversary which will be new for us. It is a North African country, known for its football. We are ambitious.”
GROUP A: Angola - Mali - Malawi - Algeria
GROUP B: Ivory Coast - Burkina Faso - Togo - Ghana
GROUP C: Egypt - Nigeria - Mozambique - Benin
GROUP D: Cameroon - Gabon - Zambia - Tunisia
The tournament will certainly be an interesting test for the nations taking part, and an indication of which African side will be the biggest threat to the traditional power players in international football when the World Cup roles around to the continent in June next year.
Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com