Africa Cup of Nations champions Ivory Coast to start defence against Togo
By Mark Ashenden
Last Updated: 19/10/16 9:58pm
Reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Ivory Coast will begin their defence against Togo in January following Wednesday's draw.
The Ivorians, who beat Ghana on penalties in the 2015 final, are in Group C against Togo, Morocco and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Hosts Gabon, who saw political turmoil after a disputed election in August, will stage the opening match in Libreville on January 14 against Guinea-Bissau, who make their first appearance in the 16-nation tournament.
Cameroon and Burkina Faso are also in Group A.
The other group favourites, Algeria and Ghana, start against Zimbabwe and Uganda respectively.
Algeria have the toughest first round in Group B where they also take on Tunisia and Senegal for one of the two qualifying places for the quarter-finals.
Ghana are the team to beat in Group D. Apart from Uganda, they will take on Egypt, making their return to the contest after missing three finals, and Mali. The final is in Libreville on February 5.
The draw produced three groups containing three of the top 10 ranked football nations in Africa, according to FIFA.
It means an emotional scenario for Morocco coach Herve Renard who will face the team he guided to the 2015 African Cup of Nations title when his current side takes on Ivory Coast in the group stage.
Renard has won the Cup of Nations twice, taking Zambia to the title in Gabon four years ago. Veteran Togo coach Claude le Roy has won it once, with Cameroon in 1988, and Gabon will mark his ninth appearance at the Cup of Nations finals.
No team will be more excited about going to Gabon in January than Uganda - the last time they qualified was in 1978 when the notorious Idi Amin ruled the east African state.
The hosts rely heavily on 2015 African Footballer of the Year Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a prolific goalscorer with German giants Borussia Dortmund.
During the draw ceremony, Gabonese officials emphasised that the country was ready to host a tournament they co-staged with neighbours Equatorial Guinea in 2012.
A disputed presidential election victory by incumbent Ali Bongo two months ago triggered riots with opposition parties claiming vote fraud.