Three-time African champions Nigeria were on Tuesday paired with Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau and Sao Tome and Principe in Group A of the qualifiers for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, PUNCH Sports Extra reports.
The 34th edition of the biennial African football showpiece is scheduled to hold from June 23 to July 24, 2023, in Ivory Coast.
The draw ceremony, which served up plenty of interesting match-ups, took place on Tuesday evening at the SuperSport studios in Johannesburg, South Africa.
A total of 48 countries, including hosts Ivory Coast, are eligible to feature in the final stage of the qualifiers scheduled to begin in June across the continent.
The 48 teams were drawn into 12 groups of four teams (Group A to L) with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the tournament to be played in the West African country.
The Super Eagles face familiar foes in Sierra Leone, who they also faced during the qualifiers for the 2021 edition, and Guinea Bissau, their opponents at the 33rd AFCON in Cameroon earlier this year.
Reacting to the draws, Atlanta Olympics gold medallist Abiodun Obafemi and U-17 World Cup winner Dele Ajiboye admitted that the Eagles were handed a tricky draw.
“I think with what recently happened, the idea of concluding too early that a team is favourite should be discarded,” Obafemi told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“We know that there are no minnows in Africa and I think this kind of group is a tricky one because we are not going to get it easy.”
Ajiboye added, “There is no easy group anymore because we’ve seen what happened in the past and I just hope that the Eagles can get the job done and qualify from the group.”
Defending champions Senegal are in Group L alongside Benin Republic, Mozambique and Rwanda.
Egypt are in Group D and will face Guinea, Malawi and Ethiopia while Ghana, who denied Nigeria a World Cup ticket, will battle Madagascar, Angola and Central African Republic in Group E.
The 2022 AFCON hosts Cameroon are in Group C with Kenya, Namibia and Burundi.
Hosts Ivory Coast are paired in Group H with Zambia, Comoros and Lesotho.
Morocco will hope to navigate their way past South Africa, Zimbabwe and Liberia in Group K when the qualifiers begin.
E-Swatini, who are making their first appearance at the tournament, will have their hands full against Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Togo in Group B.
Elsewhere, Algeria were zoned alongside Uganda, Niger Republic and Tanzania in Group F, while Group G has Mali, Congo Brazzaville, Gambia and South Sudan.
DR Congo and Gabon are the favourites to qualify from Group I, having been paired alongside Mauritania and Sudan.
Group J has Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea, Libya and Botswana.
Kenya (Group C) and Zimbabwe (Group K), who were suspended by FIFA from all football activities globally, were also be included in the draw despite their temporary bans.
However, if the suspension is not lifted two weeks before their first match-day of the qualifiers, both associations will be considered as losers and eliminated from the competition.
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