Favourites Algeria were handed a difficult African Nations Cup draw on Wednesday, grouped with fellow World Cup finalists Ghana as well as form teams Senegal and South Africa.
Algeria are the highest African side in the FIFA rankings after reaching the last 16 of the World Cup in Brazil earlier this year and winning five of their six Nations Cup qualifiers in the quick-fire three-month qualifying campaign.
South Africa finished top of a qualifying group in which holders Nigeria were eliminated while Senegal edged out record-winners Egypt.
Ghana will go into the tournament with Avram Grant as their new coach after he was appointed to the job last week.
Hosts Equatorial Guinea, who stepped in to replace Morocco with just two months to prepare for the 16-team event that runs from January 17 to February 8, will open the tournament in Bata against Congo.
The two countries are in Group A with Gabon and Burkina Faso, surprise runners-up at the last finals in South Africa in 2013.
The 2012 winners Zambia head Group B with the Cape Verde Islands, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tunisia. Tiny Cape Verde, the smallest country in the field, finished ahead of Zambia in their qualifying group.
Group D will see Cameroon and the Cote d’Ivoire resume their battle from the qualifiers. The two sides drew 0-0 last month in Abidjan after Cameroon rebounded from a poor World Cup by thumping the Ivorians 4-1 at home in September
Guinea and Mali are the other two teams in Group D.
Morocco were stripped of the right to host the event last month after asking for a postponement because of fears that the Ebola virus could be brought to their country by visiting fans.
Morocco’s request was rejected by the Confederation of African Football, who asked Equatorial Guinea to step in as emergency hosts, reports supersport.com.
“There will be difficulties but we are grateful for your patience,” said Francisco Obama, the chief local organiser on Wednesday at the draw in Equatorial Guinea’s capital.
Group A – Equtorial Guinea, Congo, Gabon, Burkina Faso
Group B – Zambia, DR Congo, Cape Verde, Tunisia
Group C – Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Algeria
Group D – Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Cameroon, Guinea