JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Major rivals South Africa and Nigeria were drawn together on Wednesday in the first round of the 2014 African Nations Championship (CHAN).
Mali and Mozambique complete a tough Group A in a tournament for home-based footballers to be staged between January 11 and February 1 in South Africa.
The rivalry between South Africa and Nigeria is among the most intense on the continent with the west Africans having a distinct advantage since it began 21 years ago.
More than half the South African side are locals while eight of the 23 Nigerians at the 2013 Confederation Cup in Brazil play at home.
South Africa are competing at the CHAN for the second time with a makeshift team losing to Algeria in the 2011 quarter-finals in Sudan.
It will be the first appearance by the Nigerians, who edged Ivory Coast 4-3 overall in a qualifying thriller to secure a place.
The mini-league will be hosted by Cape Town, as will Group B, which comprises Zimbabwe, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Morocco.
Ghana, runners-up in the inaugural CHAN tournament four years ago, are in Bloemfontein-based Group C with Libya, Ethiopia and Congo Brazzaville.
Democratic Republic of Congo, who beat Ghana to win the first edition in 2009, were placed in Group D, which is based in Polokwane, along with Gabon, Burundi and Mauritania.
Burundi and Mauritania will be playing in a CAF senior national team tournament for the first time and were the most unexpected of the 15 qualifiers.
Kenya and 2011 bronze medalists Sudan were the victims of Burundi, while Mauritania eliminated Liberia and 2009 semi-finalists Senegal.
Both surprise packets have foreign coaches with Egyptian Lofty Naseem guiding Burundi and widely-travelled Frenchman Patrice Neveu handling Mauritania.
The Nations Championship follows the traditional Confederation of African Football (CAF) format with group winners and runners-up advancing to the quarter-finals.
CAF headquarters in Cairo was the draw venue and those who attended included the president, Issa Hayatou, and the secretary-general, Hicham El Amrani, of the organisation.
Qualifiers are played on a regional two-legged basis with defending champions Tunisia among the casualties as they fell 1-0 to Morocco.
Angola, defeated 3-0 by Tunisia in the 2011 final, also failed to make it, going out on the away-goal rule to Mozambique after two draws.
DR Congo,Ghana and Zimbabwe have reached all three tournaments and Gabon, Libya, Mali, South Africa and Uganda two each.
Burkina Faso, Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique and Nigeria are the eight debutants.
South Africa, Mali, Nigeria, Mozambique
Zimbabwe, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Morocco
Ghana, Libya, Ethiopia, Congo Brazzaville
Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Burundi, Mauritania