Africa on her marks

The continent's elite got down to the hard work of preparing for the upcoming CAF Africa Cup of Nations at the start of the week, with the majority now able to call upon all of their players with the tournament kick-off less than a fortnight away.

The 16 finalists are spread far and wide, with some trying to experience the conditions that will greet them in Ghana later this month, or alternatively seeking refuge away from the expectations of their demanding supporters. A few countries, like 2010 FIFA World Cup™ hosts South Africa, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia, are staying put on familiar territory in order to retain as many home comforts as possible before heading off to the cauldron of competition.

Outsiders Benin, who have been given little chance in a tough group also comprising Côte d'Ivoire, Mali and Nigeria, have traveled the farthest to prepare for the tournament, camping out for ten days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Les Eccureils (the Squirrels) have already spent time in Tunisia as new coach Reinhard Fabisch gets to grips with the quality of his charges. Rio is not their last port of call either, as the Beninese will finish off in Burkina Faso before heading down to Ghana.

Hosts Ghana, the heavily fancied Ivorians and Mali are all in the Middle East and will be joined by Egypt briefly this week. Mali play the Egyptians in Abu Dhabi on 10 January, having made the United Arab Emirates their temporary home.

Up in Dubai, Claude Le Roy has taken his Black Stars away from the frenzied Cup of Nations fever back home in Ghana. A sense of tranquility in the Arabian deserts should have the hosts raring to go for the opening match against Guinea in Accra on 20 January.

The Ivorians are en route to Kuwait, but suffered a massive blow when coach Uli Stielike had to rush to Germany to be at the bedside of his son, who officials said had fallen into a coma. The Iberian Peninsula has proven a popular destination with Angola, Guinea, Nigeria and Sudan all fine-tuning their preparations there.

Behind the Pyrenees
Angola have been in Villamoura on the Algarve, a familiar destination, since Christmas. The Germany 2006 participants will pay Egypt on Sunday in their last warm-up game in Portugal. Egypt fly directly there from their stay in Abu Dhabi.

Nigeria are in Malaga, where coach Berti Vogts had been impatiently awaiting the arrival of his major stars, some of whom will first play their last game for their clubs in midweek before joining up with the Super Eagles. Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Joseph Yobo will play for Everton in the English League Cup semi-final on Tuesday, up against Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, who will become their team-mate a day later.

Zambia spent a week in Jerez, Spain before returning to Africa for two friendlies in Tunisia and then a further game against Morocco. Meanwhile Namibia, who are headed for only their second continental finals appearance, have had a nomadic existence since the New Year, traveling to Egypt for a friendly on Saturday and then on to Dakar for a confrontation with the Lions of Teranga.