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Nigeria, South Africa could face Morocco in AFCON group


Super EaglesNigeria, South Africa and Morocco could be placed in the same group when the Africa Cup of Nations draw is made in the Ivory Coast on Thursday.

The six top seeds include Morocco, who created history at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar by becoming the first semi-finalists from Africa.

Nigeria is among the second seeds while South Africa has had to settle for a place among the third seeds for the draw in Abidjan, the Ivorian economic capital.

Add surprise 2021 Cup of Nations quarter-finalists Gambia from the fourth seeds and it would be a striking “group of death,” the term given to particularly tough sections.

Nigeria, three-time winners of the premier African football competition, and former champions South Africa were unlucky not to be seeded higher.

The Super Eagles lie sixth in the continental rankings and, ordinarily, would have been a top seed, avoiding Morocco, title-holders Senegal, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt in the group stage.

But host countries not only automatically qualify for the two-year tournament, they are also always among the first seeds.

To accommodate the ninth-ranked Ivory Coast, sixth-placed Nigeria had to give way and now share second-seed status with Cameroon, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

South Africa had been ranked above DR Congo for some time but, in the rankings that decided the seedings, they were placed one place below the Congolese.

It was an ironic change of positions as South Africa defeated DR Congo in a friendly match just a couple of days before the rankings were released.

Shock champions 

The other third seeds are Cape Verde, Guinea, Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritania while the fourth seeds include Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, Gambia and Tanzania.

Shock 2012 champions thanks to a penalty shootout victory over Didier Drogba-inspired Ivory Coast, Zambia are back at the Cup of Nations after three straight failures to qualify.

Zambia and Mozambique, whose last appearance was in 2010, are the only qualifiers who have not featured in at least one of the last two tournaments.

Despite a poor Cup of Nations record, Morocco is set to be installed as favourites to win the January 13-February 11 competition.

They have been champions just once in 33 editions — topping a 1976 group in Ethiopia in one of only two editions where a mini-league determined the champions.

In the last Cup of Nations, hosted by Cameroon in 2022, Morocco was eliminated by Egypt in the quarter-finals.

Morocco coach Walid Regragui, mastermind of the stunning World Cup campaign after taking charge just a few months earlier, says he will quit if his team fails to at least reach the semi-finals.

“We must be at least in the semi-finals of the CAN (Cup of Nations). If I do not go to the semi-finals, I will leave on my own,” he told the Moroccan media.

“I told my players that we cannot be kings of the world before being kings of our continent. Everyone wants to beat Morocco after our results in Qatar.

“This makes it more difficult for us to win, but it also motivates the players to improve and I welcome that.”

All six top seeds plus Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, DR Congo, South Africa and Zambia have won the Cup of Nations. The other champions — Ethiopia, Sudan and Congo Brazzaville — did not qualify.

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