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October 28, 2011
Five of the teams currently ranked in the top ten on the African continent will be missing from the draw for 2012 Africa Cup of Nations this Saturday in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Egypt Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa all failed to qualify despite being ranked 2nd 4th 6th 7th and 8th respectively on the latest ranking on continent. Interestingly all bar the Pharaohs qualified for the World Cup last year, and between them the quintet have won 15 of the 27 previous tournaments.
Surprise inclusions among the 16 teams going into four glass bowls in capital city Malabo are first-time qualifiers Botswana and Niger and Equatorial Guinea automatic participants as co-hosts are the other debutants.
Equatorial Guinea and fellow hosts Gabon will be among the top seeds in Pot
1 with four-time winners Ghana and 1992 champions Ivory Coast while Pot 2 comprises Angola, Guinea, Tunisia and Zambia.
Burkina Faso, Mali, Morocco and Senegal will be in Pot 3 and Pot 4 includes Botswana, Libya, Niger and Sudan, the teams considered least likely to win the biennial showcase of African football.
The Confederation of African Football secretary general Hicham El Amrani will conduct his first African Cup of Nations draw filling for the role his predecessor Mustapha Fahmy of Egypt held for many years.
A team from each pot will be placed together, creating four four-team pools that will be based in the Equatorial Guinean cities of Malabo and Bata and the Gabonese cities of Libreville and Franceville.
It has already been decided that Equatorial Guinea, at 41 the lowest ranked team, will be based in Malabo and Gabon in Libreville. Ghana and Ivory Coast go to the other centres with a separate draw determining which side goes where.
Every Cup of Nations draw produces at least one pool packed with powerful teams — a so-called ‘group of death’ — and despite the absence of the ‘big five’ there are no shortage of candidates.
How about Ghana, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya or Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal and Sudan? Possibilities of a weaker pool also exist with Equatorial Guinea or Gabon unlikely to complain if they get Angola, Burkina Faso and Botswana.
Although the January 21 kick-off in Bata is still almost three months away, many African football pundits have already decided that the February 12 final in Libreville will pit Ivory Coast against Ghana in a West African showdown.
The Ivorians Elephants top the African rankings and the Ghanaian Black Stars are third while they boast line-ups packed with Europe-based stars like Didier Drogba and Andre Ayew who are more than capable of conquering Africa.
Both have come close in the past decade with Ivory Coast losing on penalties to hosts Egypt in 2006 and Ghana conceding a late winner to the Pharaohs in the 2010 Luanda climax.
Ghana have lifted the Cup of Nations four times, but the last triumph was in Tripoli 29 years ago, while the lone Ivory Coast success came 19 years ago in Dakar after a marathon penalty shoot-out with the Black Stars.