Leone Stars of Sierra Leone and the 2015 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title holders Ivory Coast were drawn together in Group I of the 2017 AFCON qualifiers.
In the group Also are Sudan and the tournaments host Gabon- who by virtue of being the host nation now gain automatic qualification-but their matches in this group will only count as friendlies with no points awarded.
Leone Stars will first travel to Khartoum to face Sudan on the weekend of 12, 13, 14 July 2015 before hosting the holders Ivory Coast on 04, 05, 06 September 2015 in Freetown and then travel to face Gabon on the 23,24,25,26 March 2016.
“Ivory Coast want will be pushing harder because they want to secure qualification in order to defend their title in Gabon. For the tournament host, Gabon despite matches against them will not score any points but they might want to prove a point,” Sesay said.
Pierre Alain Mounguengui, President of Gabon Football Federation said he is satisfied with the draw and the chance given to them in hosting the tournament.
Mounguengui told Cafonline.com: “I’m satisfied with the draw and the choice of our country as hosts by the CAF Executive Committee. It was not an easy decision. We had two other bidders, Ghana and Algeria. Ghana has great experience, not only in football but organisation of tournaments. Ghana has hosted the AFCON three times; 1978, 2000 (co-hosted with Nigeria) and 2008. Algeria also is great country and has hosted the AFCON before with huge success. To be chosen at the expense of these two countries, it’s a huge satisfaction for us.”
Meanwhile, Ghana, who lost to the Ivorians in a dramatic penalty shootout in the 2015 final in Bata in February, were placed in Group H with modest opposition in the form of Mauritius, Mozambique and Rwanda.
Seven times champion, Egypt were drawn in the same group as fellow heavyweights Nigeria. The two will battle for a single berth from Group G together with Tanzania and Chad.
There will also be a tough battle in Group M where Cameroon and South Africa were paired together. The group also includes Gambia and Mauritius