Friday, January 4, 2008

Cup of Nations is Around the Corner

The venues are being scrubbed clean, the tickets are printed and the cities are bubbling with anticipation.

The African Cup of Nations is but a mere 2 weeks and 2 days away from taking over the minds and hearts of football fans around the globe.

Cup finalists begin their pre-tournament preparations in earnest this weekend, led by defending champions Egypt who host Namibia in a friendly.

Saturday's match in Aswan is the first of three warm-up matches for the Pharaohs, still sweating on the availability of star striker Mido.

The Middlesbrough forward has a knee injury and is unsure of his fitness for the tournament, which starts January 20.

Namibia play their first match under Dutch coach Arie Schans, who has had less than a month to work with the team. His predecessor, the Zambian Ben Bamchuile died at the end of last month, casting a shadow over Namibia's preparations.

All but two of the 16 finalists will play warm-up internationals over the next three weeks before the tournament kick off.

Cameroon had planned a match against Kenya in Nairobi but the post-election violence in the east African country have seen the Indomitable Lions switch their preparations to Burkina Faso. To date, they have no matches planned and will not have played an international since their last qualifier in September.

Guinea play no warm-up internationals but will get match practice against club opposition in Marbella, Spain, where they will begin preparations next week. Among their planned opponents are Fiorentina and Borussia Dortmund. Heady competition, no?

Nigeria and Sudan are training in Malaga while Benin have gone to Brazil for a 10-day camp before heading to Burkina Faso for a warm-up match against Senegal on Jan. 17.

Angola have been in Portugal since before Christmas for their preparations.
Tunisia host Zambia at Rades on Sunday before a flurry of fixtures next week, which sees matches in Abu Dhabi, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and South Africa.

Under FIFA rules for continental championships, clubs must release their players for preparations a full two weeks before the start of the tournament, setting Sunday as the deadline for squad members to join up.

But there are likely to be some exceptions, notably Ghana's Michael Essien who officials said would likely be allowed to play for Chelsea against Tottenham Hotspur on Jan.14. Also, Samuel Eto'o will stay with Barcelona until mid-week next week, playing in a Kings Cup match before meeting up with his Cameroon teammates.

It's almost here, people. I'm excited!!

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