DURBAN, South Africa, October 24- Holders Zambia will begin the defence of the Africa Nations Cup against East African returnees Ethiopia while favourites Ivory Coast are placed in the group of death following the tournament draw conducted on Wednesday in South Africa.
The title front runners got a double dose of North African opposition in Tunisia and Algeria when the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations draw in Durban.
Emmanuel Adebayor-inspired Togo complete Group D, which will be based in the north-western mining town of Rustenburg where England were based during the 2010 World Cup.
Hosts South Africa kick off the tournament on January 19 against shock qualifiers Cape Verde Islands and Angola and Morocco complete Group A with most of the action set for Indian Ocean city Durban.
Defending champions Zambia come up against Nigeria, back after missing the 2012 finals, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia in Group C based in the north-eastern city of Nelspruit near the world famous Kruger National Park.
Ghana and Mali, who clashed twice during the 2012 tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, renew a long rivalry in Port Elizabeth-based Group B with Niger and Democratic of Congo completing the line-up.
Ivory Coast midfielder Max Gradel believes the experience of striker and captain Didier Drogba and other senior players could prove crucial when the tournament returns to South Africa after 17 years.
“There are a lot of wise old heads in the team, including Kolo and Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Didier Zokora and Kader Keita. You can always count on them and their advice is invaluable.
“I have been following the career of Didier (Drogba) since I was a little boy, watching him play when he was still at Guingamp. Playing alongside him in the national team is a dream come true for me.”
The 24-year-old who joined French Ligue 1 outfit Saint-Etienne from English second-tier club Leeds United also heaped praise on Sabri Lamouchi, a surprise choice as coach after the contract of Francois Zahoui was not renewed this year.
“He stresses that you never win anything by yourself and emphasises the importance of winning as a team. The Ivory Coast squad has so much individual talent, but the most important thing is to combine our strengths.”
Former champions Cameroon and Egypt will be notable absentees — both failing to qualify for the second consecutive time — and 2012 co-hosts Equatorial Guinea and Gabon did not make it either.
South Africa are utilising five 2010 World Cup stadiums — Soccer City in Johannesburg, Moses Mabhida in Durban, Mbombela in Nelspruit, Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth and Royal Bafokeng in Rustenburg — for the African showcase.
Group A: South Africa, Angola, Morocco, Cape Verde
Group B: Ghana, Mali, Niger, DR Congo
Group C: Zambia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia
Group D: Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Algeria, Togo
FIXTURES (All times CAT, add one hour for EAT)
(Durban unless stated)
South Africa v Cape Verde 1600, Angola v Morocco 1900
South Africa v Angola 1500, Morocco v Cape Verde 1800
South Africa v Morocco 1700
At Port Elizabeth
Cape Verde v Angola 1700
(Port Elizabeth unless noted)
Ghana v DR Congo 1500, Mali v Niger 1800
Ghana v Mali 1500, Niger v DR Congo 1800
Ghana v Niger 1700
DR Congo v Mali 1700
(Nelspruit unless noted)
Zambia v Ethiopia 1500, Nigeria v Burkina Faso 1800
Zambia v Nigeria 1500, Burkina Faso v Ethiopia 1800
Zambia v Burkina Faso 1700
Ethiopia v Nigeria 1700
(Rustenburg unless noted)
Ivory Coast v Togo 1500, Tunisia v Algeria 1800
Ivory Coast v Tunisia 1500, Algeria v Togo 1800
Ivory Coast v Algeria 1700
Togo v Tunisia 1700
At Port Elizabeth
(1) Gp B winners v Gp A runners-up 1500
(2) Gp A winners v Gp B runners-up 1830
(3) Gp D winners v Gp C runners-up 1500
(4) Gp C winners v Gp D runners-up 1830
Winners quarter-final 2 v winners quarter-final 3 1500
Winners quarter-final 4 v winners quarter-final 1 1830
At Port Elizabeth
Semi-finals losers 1800
Semi-finals winners 1800
Johannesburg: Soccer City (94,000 capacity)
Durban: Moses Mabhida Stadium (54,000)
Nelspruit: Mbombela Stadium (41,000)
Port Elizabeth: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (48,500)
Rustenburg: Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace (42,000)