JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Defending champions Egypt, traditional contenders Cameroon and Nigeria and last year’s World Cup hosts South Africa head the list of notable absentees from Saturday’s African Nations Cup draw where a vastly changed finals field will be paired into four groups.
Three debutants - Botswana, Niger and co-hosts Equatorial Guinea -- feature among the list of 16 finalists in the draw taking place in Malabo, the capital of Equitorial Guinea, which has had its traditional order overturned by a series of shock results in the qualifiers.
Egypt, who have won the last three tournaments, tumbled out early in the preliminaries, Cameroon were also eliminated before the final round of qualifiers and Nigeria lost out on a dramatic last day of action.
Only one of the winners from the last nine editions of the Nations Cup will be at the finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon from January 21 to February 12.
Tunisia won in 2004 but while the likes of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Sudan are past champions, it has been decades since their previous successes.
South Africa’s absence is due in part to their management team mis-reading the qualifying rules that saw coach Pitso Mosimane playing for a draw instead of a win in their final qualifier at home to Sierra Leone earlier this month. That mistake allowed Niger to qualify at South Afrcia’s expense.
Saturday’s draw sees Equatorial Guinea as the top seeds in Group A while Gabon have similar status in Group C. Ghana and the Ivory Coast are the other two seeded teams but a draw will determine who heads Groups B and D.
Angola, Guinea, Zambia and Tunisia are ranked second seeds while Burkina Faso, Mali, Morocco and Senegal are to be drawn from the third tier.
The lowest tier of teams is made up of newcomers Botswana and Niger plus Libya and Sudan, who qualified at the weekend in the best runners-up slots.
The seedings were determined on previous Nations Cup tournament results.
Four venues are being used for the three week tournament. Group A will be based in Bata and Group B in Malabo. Group C is based in Franceville and Group D in Libreville, the Gabonese capital which also hosts the final.