Bafana Bafana — who won the trophy when they hosted it in 1996 but have experienced very little success since — were drawn in Group C along with perennial title contenders Ghana, Senegal and Algeria for the tournament that runs from January 17 to February 8 in Rquatorial Guinea.
Equatorial Guinea — who co-hosted the 2012 edition with Gabon — are fortunate to be even involved as they were originally disqualified for fielding an ineligible player in a match.
However, they regained African football’s governing body CAF’s favour when they offered to step in and host the tournament after original hosts Morocco were themselves disqualified as hosts when they said they wanted to postpone the tournament because of fears over the spreading of the deadly Ebola virus.
Indeed their gesture was recognised publicly by CAF president Issa Hayatou during the pre-draw ceremony.
He expressed CAF’s gratitudes at flying to the rescue of the tournament and praised their courageous decision.
Two of South Africa’s rivals, Ghana and Algeria, were in the World Cup finals this year with the latter reaching the second round for the first time in their history and the Desert Foxes took eventual champions Germany to extra-time in their last 16 clash.
It will be quite a baptism of fire for Avram Grant the newly-appointed coach of Ghana — who have flattered to deceive on several occasions at the finals since they were crowned champions for the fourth time in 1982.
The neutral supporter will probably be behind Guinea, who are the only country of the three most seriously affected by Ebola to have qualified, and who have been drawn in Group D.
The Guineans — who will be making their 11th appearance with their best showing reaching the final in 1976 — will have a tough task to reach the knockout stages having drawn both an ageing but still talented Ivory Coast and a revived Cameroon while Mali — who finished third in both the 2012 and 23013 finals — fill up the places.
Ivory Coast have been accused of being chokers when it came to the continental trophy and with stars such as Didier Drogba now retired from the national side the Elephants French coach Herve Renard said the goal was clear but the task a tough one.
“We must make it our goal to finish in the top two,” said the 46-year-old, who guided Zambia to the 2012 title.
– high expectations –
“It is imperative we battle hard and it will be difficult. There are other teams in the group who played far better in the qualifiers than we did. However, there are always high expectations surrounding the Ivory Coast.
“We cannot hide and it is vital we don;t try to. We have to assume our responsibilities.”
Equatorial Guinea got a relatively kind draw.
They will open the tournament with a game against Congo and will also face Gabon — with whom they co-hosted the 2012 finals — and 2013 beaten finalists Burkina Faso.
Zambia, who won an emotionally charged 2012 final in Libreville, Gabon, will fancy their chances of making a serious bid for the crown after drawing Democratic Republic of Congo, Cape Verde and Tunisia on Group B.
The Zambians secured the continental showpiece just miles from the scene of the plane crash that killed 25 members of the national team in 1993.
Democratic Republic of Congo