(Reuters) -Defending champions Algeria were drawn with the Ivory Coast in a tough group for next January’s Africa Cup of Nations finals while hosts Cameroon will kick off the tournament against Burkina Faso.
Algeria, who won the 2019 edition in Egypt, will not have to play the Ivorians until their last Group E game, by which time both countries could have advanced from the first round at the expense of underdogs Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Cameroon, hosting the tournament 50 years after their only previous time, have a tricky game against Burkina Faso in Yaounde in Group A on Jan. 9 and will also face Ethiopia and the Cape Verde Islands, who have been their bogey side in recent qualifying competitions.
Egypt and Nigeria were paired together in Group D while Ghana and Morocco will compete in Group C.
With the top two teams in each group plus the four best third-placed finishers advancing to the knockout stage, it is not expected there will be any early casualties among the fancied sides.
“It does look a balanced draw,” said Cameroon great Samuel Eto’o.
The Comoros Islands, who are in Group C, and Gambia, in Group F, will participate in the finals for the first time.
Two stadiums in Yaounde plus newly built or refurbished venues in Bafoussam, Douala, Garoua and Limbe will be used in the tournament, which was postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It concludes on Feb. 6 next year.
Cameroon were supposed to host the 2019 finals but were stripped of the right by the Confederation of African Football when inspectors found they were not ready. Egypt stepped in as hosts at the last minute.
Group A: Cameroon (hosts), Burkina Faso, Cape Verde Islands, Ethiopia
Group B: Guinea, Malawi, Senegal, Zimbabwe
Group C: Comoros Islands, Gabon, Ghana, Morocco
Group D: Egypt, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, Sudan
Group E: Algeria, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone
Group F: Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Tunisia
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Toby Davis)