African superstars await fate
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African superstars Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and Michael Essien will discover Friday who they face at the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola between 10-31 January nexy year.

A draw ceremony in the capital of the oil-rich south-west Africa state divides the 16 qualifiers into four groups from which the winners and runners-up advance to the quarter-finals.

Chelsea striker Drogba is the main source of Ivory Coast goals, Eto'o of Inter Milan serves a similar role with Cameroon and Essien, also from English Premiership table-toppers Chelsea, drives the Ghana midfield.

And with the top ten football nations on the continent among those securing places, the stage is set for an intriguing tournament as Egypt seek a record third consecutive title.

Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, all qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, are former African champions and potential winners of the first Cup of Nations to be staged by a Portuguese-speaking country.

Even Angola, lowest ranked of the contenders at 21, dare not be dismissed given the record of hosts in a tournament first staged 52 years ago in Sudan and won by Egypt.

Egypt (2006) and Tunisia (2004) lifted the title on home soil, Nigeria (2000) came second, Ghana (2008) third and, significantly, apparent whipping boys Mali (2002) and Burkina Faso (1998) fourth.

Apart from the benefit of home support in one of the few African countries where basketball rivals football for popularity, Angola are automatically among the top seeds as hosts which generally delivers a kinder draw.

There is also the Manuel Jose factor. The charismatic 63-year-old Portuguese steered Cairo club Al Ahly to four CAF Champions League titles and is hoping his formula works equally well at national-team level.

No Cup of Nations line-up would be complete without a fairytale participant and this time it is Malawi, back for a second appearance 25 years after last competing.

After failing with a succession of foreign coaches, the 'Flames' turned to former national star Kinnah Phiri and a come-from-behind home draw against Ivory Coast secured an ultimately decisive point.

Another country back on centre stage after a long absence is Mozambique, a well-drilled team under Dutch coach Mart Nooij who defeated Tunisia and held Ivory Coast and Nigeria in Maputo.

The full Cup line-up includes Angola, Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Togo, Tunisia and Zambia.

Notable absentees are former champions DR Congo, Morocco and South Africa and Senegal with only the North African 'Atlas Lions' even managing to make the final qualifying round.

Angola have built stadiums in Luanda, Benguela, Cabinda and Lubango for the 32-fixture tournament with the opening match and final to be played at the 50,000-seater in the capital.