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African Cup: Ghana, Algeria, SAfrica, Senegal drawn together; Ivory Coast faces Cameroon

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MALABO, Equatorial Guinea — Ghana, Algeria, South Africa and Senegal were drawn together Wednesday in one of two extremely tough groups for next year's African Cup of Nations.

In the other, it's Ivory Coast, Mali, Cameroon and Guinea.

New host Equatorial Guinea will play Republic of Congo in the opening game of the four-group, 16-team African Cup on Jan. 17. Gabon and 2013 finalist Burkina Faso are the other teams in Group A and also meet on the first day.

Group B has 2012 champion Zambia, Tunisia, Cape Verde and Congo.

Group C will surely be the hardest of the four. It brings together two former World Cup quarterfinalists in Ghana and Senegal, top-ranked African side Algeria and former Cup of Nations winner South Africa, which was unbeaten in the final round of qualifiers to help eliminate defending champion Nigeria.

Star-studded Ivory Coast and four-time champion Cameroon will renew their rivalry in Group D at the finals after they were in the same group in qualifying. They were joined by Mali, a semifinalist and the third-place team at the last two Cup of Nations.

The draw for the 2015 Cup of Nations was held in the Equatorial Guinea capital of Malabo after the central African country replaced Morocco as host at short notice. Morocco had requested a postponement of the championship because of the West African Ebola outbreak. Organizers the Confederation of African Football refused and announced last month they were moving the Jan. 17-Feb. 8 cup to Equatorial Guinea.

On Wednesday, CAF President Issa Hayatou thanked Equatorial Guinea for stepping in just two months ahead of kickoff to rescue the continent's showpiece soccer event.

"CAF will never forget this gesture by Equatorial Guinea," Hayatou said at the draw ceremony before passing the golden Cup of Nations trophy to Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

But the focus now will be on the state of the oil-rich nation's preparations after no other country appeared willing to step in as host, apparently forcing CAF to go with its only option.

Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the African Cup with Gabon in 2012 and will use existing facilities in two of the four host cities for 2015; the capital Malabo and Bata, the largest city. However, it plans this time to also hold games in the more remote cities of Mongomo and Ebebiyin, where it is rushing to complete new stadiums in time for the start, which is around six weeks away.

This week, a government delegation expressed concerns over delays to stadium construction work in the far eastern cities of Mongomo and Ebebiyin, according to the government news agency. CAF has not released details on the size or readiness of the planned stadiums in those two cities.

Group C games will be in Mongomo, with Ghana opening against Senegal and South Africa playing Algeria in the first round.

Ivory Coast starts its quest for a long-awaited first title since 1992 against Guinea, while Cameroon plays Mali. In Group B, Zambia faces Congo and Tunisia plays Cape Verde first.

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