Holders Ivory Coast will face former manager Herve Renard in the group stages of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, which were drawn on Wednesday.
Renard, now in charge of Morocco, led Ivory Coast to glory two years ago, ending the nation's 23-year wait for a second AFCON title. The champions will also face DR Congo and Togo in Group C.
The Elephants triumphed against Ghana in Equatorial Guinea in 2015 after a thrilling penalty shootout. Michel Dussuyer’s side are among the big favourites for victory again in Gabon, although competition will be fierce.
Here’s a look at the draw in full, courtesy of the CAF Twitter feed:
Final result of the draw. What are your country's chances of being Champions? #AFCON2017 https://t.co/K5GtiowTfd2016-10-19 18:59:09
Below are the opening group-stage fixtures, while the schedule in full can be found on the CAF website:
|AFCON 2017: Group Stage Fixtures|
|January 14||5 p.m.||A||Gabon vs. Guinea-Bissau|
|January 14||8 p.m.||A||Burkina Faso vs. Cameroon|
|January 15||5 p.m.||B||Algeria vs. Zimbabwe|
|January 15||8 p.m.||B||Tunisia vs. Senegal|
|January 16||5 p.m.||C||Ivory Coast vs. Togo|
|January 16||8 p.m.||C||DR Congo vs. Morocco|
|January 17||5 p.m.||D||Ghana vs. Uganda|
|January 17||8 p.m.||D||Mali vs. Egypt|
Given the tournament will run during January and February, it means key players from various European clubs will miss sections of the domestic season.
Bleacher Report UK broke down the stars who will be absent from the Premier League as they get set to take part:
Host nation Gabon will feel as though they have a decent draw overall and will be confident of progressing beyond the group stage. Cameroon, Burkina Faso and debutant Guinea-Bissau will join them in Group A.
While there is excitement ahead of the competition, there are doubts over whether or not the tournament will be staged in Gabon at all.
As reported by Jonathan Wilson of the Guardian, there has been major unrest in the country since president Ali Bongo was re-elected by a narrow margin, with allegations of ballot tampering fuelling discontent. There have been attacks on the parliament building and national television network by supporters of the opposition.
Should the event go ahead as planned, all eyes will be on Gabon’s star man, Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to produce.
Per Squawka Football, he’s been in superb goalscoring form:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has now scored 52 goals in his last 62 appearances. Frightening rate. https://t.co/I4drDauzjK2016-10-18 18:59:48
Elsewhere, Group B will be competitive, as Algeria, Senegal, Tunisia and Zimbabwe will all scrap for a spot in the knockout stages.
Algeria, in particular, have made strong progress as of late and will head into the competition boasting arguably the finest attacking options of any side. Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez have been linking up well at Leicester City, while the likes of Yacine Brahimi, Sofiane Feghouli and Rachid Ghezzal are also big threats.
Senegal will also be one of the favourites for the title and have plenty of attacking thrust of their own. However, their most valuable asset is arguably Everton midfield man Idrissa Gueye; the team’s official Twitter feed made note of his excellent start to the season:
Idrissa Gueye has won 43 tackles this season. No player in the top 5 European leagues has won more. @Everton #EvertonFC #Idrissa made in 🇸🇳 https://t.co/EJEh8u4WoN2016-10-17 13:59:36
Ivory Coast should have enough to emerge from Group C, although their long-standing star man Yaya Toure announced his decision to retire from the international game last month. The champions will be hoping young stars can emerge to take over from the ageing golden generation.
Group D sees the 2015 runners-up Ghana pitted against Uganda, Egypt and Mali. Having come so close a couple of years ago, manager Avram Grant will feel his Black Stars side are ready to end what will be a 35-year wait for silverware once the competition kicks off.