The 16 teams to compete in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations will learn who they will play in South Africa when the draw is made in Durban on Wednesday.Report By BBC Sport
The Confederation of African Football has already announced the seedings for the tournament, which will be held between 19 January and 10 February.
Hosts South Africa are among the top seeds, alongside reigning champions Zambia, Ghana and Ivory Coast.
Debutants Cape Verde, who beat Cameroon in a play-off, are seeded fourth.
The tiny nation, with a population of about 500,000, pulled off a shock 3-2 aggregate win over the four-time African champions.
Cape Verde have been rapidly improving over the last decade, moving up from 182nd in Fifa’s world rankings in 2000 to their current position of 51st.
And they could prove a tricky obstacle in the tournament’s mini league stage – where the top two teams qualify from the four groups of four teams.
DR Congo are another of the fourth-seeded teams who could pose a big problem for the more fancied sides.
And with two-time winners Nigeria among the second seeds, there is much potential for a ‘group of death’ to emerge from the draw – despite the absence of Cameroon and seven-time winners Egypt, who are both missing for a second successive tournament.
Nigeria will have a point to prove after they failed to qualify for this year’s tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
And under coach Stephen Keshi, who took over in October 2011 following the sacking of Samson Siasia, the Super Eagles are unbeaten in 2012.
Former South Africa captain Neil Tovey, who lifted the Nations Cup in 1996, believes Nigeria will be a team to watch out for.
“They possess an abundance of talent and my good friend Stephen Keshi is settling down nicely as coach and getting them well organised,” Tovey said. “He has so many good footballers to choose from.”
Tovey has also tipped four-time winners Ghana to do well and the Black Stars go into the tournament under the leadership of a man who knows what it takes to win it.
Kwesi Appiah lifted the trophy as a player in 1982 and many Ghana fans are optimistic he can emulate the achievement as a coach, having been appointed to the role in April.
Expectation may also weigh heavily on holders Zambia , although legendary former player Kalusha Bwalya is confident the Chipolopolo can cope.
He told BBC Sport: “The people have talked about the teams to beat and our name is being mentioned – as we are champions.
“And if there’s one team at the tournament which has a tried and tested coach it’s Zambia. We also have the players tried and tested. We have a team, a plan, a system in place. We know what to expect.”
However, Zambia will have to improve significantly if they are to be contenders. Their form since winning the tournament in February has not been good and they only squeezed past Uganda in qualification, going through 9-8 on penalties.
Making a return to the finals for the first time since 1982 are Ethiopia , who qualified by beating Sudan on away goals. It marks a timely resurgence for the Walya Antelopes, who won the competition 50 years ago.
There were no such fine margins in Mali’s final-round qualification tie, with the Eagles thumping Botswana 7-1.
Mali were a surprise package in the tournament earlier this year, when they performed brilliantly to finish in third place, but have backed up that performance with their results since.
The achievement of back-to-back qualifications is even more remarkable given the political unrest in Mali – a situation that forced a World Cup qualifier in June to be moved because of security concerns – and the fact they replaced coach Alain Giresse with Patrice Carteron in July.
Niger shocked many by qualifying last time and have proved it was no fluke by qualifying for their second successive finals. They will be aiming to go beyond the first round for the first time.
Another team looking to progress to the second stage for the first time is Togo , who have not played in the tournament since they withdrew from the 2010 finals in Angola after their team bus was attacked by gunmen.
Following their withdrawal Togo were initially banned by Caf from participating in the next two editions of the Nations Cup, which would have ruled them out of the 2013 tournament – the suspension was overturned by football’s world governing body Fifa.
Ivory Coast go into the tournament with a batch of players who admit they may not get another chance in the career to lift the trophy – among them is ex-Chelsea striker Didier Drogba.
Certainly the scene is set for a fascinating tournament in South Africa and the draw will give an indication of things to come.
Seedings for the draw for the 2103 Africa Cup of Nations:
• Pot one: South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast
• Pot two: Mali, Tunisia, Angola, Nigeria
• Pot three: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, Niger
• Pot four: Togo, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Ethiopia.
Teams from the same pot cannot be drawn against each other.