S’Eagles Draw S’Leone, G’Bissau, Sao Tome/Mauritius
Femi Solaja with agency report
Three-time African champions, Super Eagles of Nigeria, will begin a new football calendar with matches against Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome & Principe or Mauritius after the draw for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations concluded last night in South Africa.
The draw means Nigeria will be up against West African side, Sierra Leone for the second consecutive qualification series after both sides cancelled each other out the last time in 4-4 score-line at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City and goalless outing in the reversed fixture in Freetown.
The qualifying tournament will start in June and it will the first competitive outing for Super Eagles since the team was eliminated by the Black Stars of Ghana in the last World Cup play-off tie.
In other group pairings, holders, Senegal will battle Republic of Benin, Mozambique and Rwanda.
Aliou Cisse’s side won the tournament for the second time in February, beating Egypt via a shootout.
Mohamed Salah’s Egypt, who have won the competition a record seven times, will play against Guinea, Malawi and Ethiopia.
In all, 48 countries have been split into 12 groups of four, with the top two in each group reaching the finals.
However, hosts Ivory Coast are guaranteed a spot at the tournament, so whichever of their opponents- Zambia, Comoros and Lesotho finishes highest in Group H will qualify alongside the two-time winner.
Meanwhile, Kenya and Zimbabwe were included in the draw despite being banned from international football by world governing body FIFA.
And should either country fail to have their suspension lifted two weeks before qualifiers begin, then they will be eliminated and their respective groups will comprise of just three teams.
Elsewhere, Sao Tome & Principe and Mauritius are awaiting the outcome of a Confederation of African Football (CAF) disciplinary process to see which country will take the fourth spot in Group A.
Sao Tome & Principe won their preliminary qualifying tie 4-3 aggregate but could yet miss out for a place in the group stage proper.
Qualifying is set to begin with two matches between May 30 and June 14.Two more fixtures will follow in September, with the final two rounds billed for March next year.
CAF will announce the dates and schedule of fixtures in due course.
The 2023 Nations Cup is set to be held in Ivory Coast in June and July next year.
AFCON 2023 QUALIFYING GROUPS
Group A: Nigeria, S’Leone, G’Bissau, Sao Tome or Mauritius
Group B: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Togo, Eswatini
Group C: Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, Burundi
Group D: Egypt, Guinea, Malawi, Ethiopia
Group E: Ghana, Madagascar, Angola, Central African Rep.
Group F: Algeria, Uganda, Niger, Tanzania
Group G: Mali, Congo Brazzaville, Gambia, South Sudan
Group H: Ivory Coast (hosts), Zambia, Comoros, Lesotho
Group I: DR Congo, Gabon, Mauritania, Sudan
Group J: Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Botswana
Group K: Morocco, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Liberia
Group L: Senegal (holders), Benin, Mozambique, Rwanda