Four-time soccer champions Ghana has a steep road ahead as it seeks to reclaim the Africa Nations Cup it last held in 1982.
The West Africans are in the same group with 1996 champions South Africa, who were unbeaten in the just concluded qualifiers; 1990 titlists Algeria, which is the continent’s top-ranked side and 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists, Senegal.
Cameroon, which has also won the tournament four times, has been grouped with Ivory Coast, which qualified for the last three World Cups; 2013 third-place finisher Mali and Guinea, which was the 1976 runner-up.
Zambia, the 2012 champions, along with the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, 2004 cup holders Tunisia and Cape Verde – which made its first appearance in the regional tournament last year – are in Group “B”, while host country Equatorial Guinea will meet Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and Burkina Faso in the first round.
Equatorial Guinea hosts Congo in the opening match on January 17.
Meanwhile, Ghanaian midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah has been ruled out of next month’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament because of injury.
The 25-year-old Juventus player has had keyhole surgery to fix a cartilage problem in his left knee.
“The recovery time is estimated at not less than three to four months,” the club said.
Asamoah, who has made 66 appearances for his country since 2006, suffered the injury last month and missed Ghana’s final two Nations Cup qualifiers against Uganda and Togo.
Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure has revealed that he will retire after the Nations Cup.
The 33-year-old Liverpool player made his debut against Rwanda in April 2000 and has gone on to win 109 caps.
“I want to give all to my country and myself because we have been in search of silverware for far too long,” he said. “If my coach (Herve Renard) gives me the opportunity to play at the upcoming Nations Cup, I will do my best and thereafter we will all say goodbye. It’s going to be the end between Kolo Toure and the Elephants.”
Ivory Coast’s only Africa Cup of Nations victory was in 1992.
In other soccer news, Yacine Brahimi has been voted the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) African Soccer Player of the Year.
The 24-year-old midfielder is the first Algerian to win the award, which is decided by fan voting.
“It’s a big honour for me to receive this wonderful trophy,” he said. “I owe it to my country, Algeria, and to all the people who voted for me. It’s also a trophy for the whole of Africa because it rewards an African player. So I am really very happy. This trophy is going to give me more strength, more desire to work, to get better, to learn so that I can keep having great performances.”
Brahimi finished ahead of Nigerian Vincent Enyeama, Gabonese Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ivorians Gervinho and Yaya Toure after a record number of votes were submitted by fans in the 207 International Soccer Federation (FIFA)-registered countries.