By Samindra Kunti
August 18 – Hosts Cameroon will kick off the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations against Burkina Faso next year with Egypt – Nigeria and Algeria – Ivory Coast among the pick of the group stage matches following the finals draw in Yaounde.
At a star-studded and colourful show, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Asamoah Gyan were among the legends deciding the fate of the 24 participants who will seek to dethrone Algeria as the continent’s champions next January. In Group E, the reigning champions will face Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea.
The hosts were handed a favourable draw with the Indomitable Lions facing Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Cape Verde as they seek a sixth continental title. In 2017, Cameroon last won the Africa Cup of Nations when a young team led by Hugo Broos surprised Egypt in the final 2-1.
In Group C, there is an Arsenal clash with Ghana’s Thomas Partey meeting Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Morocco and debutants Comoros complete the group. The finals’ other debutants, Gambia, will need to take points of Mauritania to have any chance of progressing from the group stages with heavyweights Tunisia and Mali the favorites in Group F.
Gernot Rorh and Nigeria will face Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in Group D with Sudan and Guinea-Bissau the other opponents. Sadio Mane’s Senegal, the 2019 runners-up following their final defeat by Algeria, should dominate Zimbabwe, Guinea and Malawi in Group B.
Cameroon’s head of state Paul Biya and Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Patrice Motsepe were among the dignitaries attending the draw ceremony. The African football supremo expressed his confidence once again that the hosts will deliver a successful finals, repeating that Cameroon had always been plan A and plan B and that “there was no other plan”.
Cameroon had been due to host the finals in 2019, but the tournament was shifted at the eleventh hour to Egypt because the West Africans had fallen behind with their preparations, not least because the tournament format had been expanded to 24 teams. The 2021 finals then had to be postponed twice because of weather concerns and the global health crisis.
Motsepe also added that CAF wants “to increase the prize money” for the tournament and is “in discussions with sponsors”. At the last Africa Cup of Nations, champions Algeria were rewarded with $4.5 million in prize money, the runners-up Senegal got $2.5 million. He also wants to introduce prize money that will be reserved for players specifically to prevent teams haggling over bonuses.
Yaounde, Bafoussam, Douala, Garoua and Limbe will serve as host cities for the finals. The tournament kicks off on January 9 and will culminate with the final on February 6.
Africa Cup of Nations draw:
Group A: Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Cape Verde
Group B: Senegal, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Malawi
Group C: Morocco, Ghana, Comoros, Gabon
Group D: Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Guinea-Bissau
Group E: Algeria, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast
Group F: Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania, Gambia
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