Ghana face Nigeria in top African attraction
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A showdown between Ghana and Nigeria near London is the highlight of 14 midweek friendlies involving African countries preparing for 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers next month.

Half of the 52 active African national teams will be in action from Vicarage Road, home of English second-tier club Watford, to the new Zimpeto Stadium in Maputo. South Africa host Burkina Faso in Johannesburg, Senegal against Morocco in Dakar features two in-form teams, Tunisia face a Mali squad lacking their stars and Geneva is the setting as Côte d'Ivoire meet Israel.

Notable absentees from the fixture list are coach-less African champions Egypt, an Algerian team reorganising under new Bosnian handler Vahid Halilhodzic and Cameroon opted for a Paris camp when a Los Angeles date with El Salvador fell through.

Friendlies are often plagued by late injury withdrawals and South Africa midfielder and captain Steven Pienaar is a definite non-starter while recalled Nigeria striker Osaze Odemwingie faces a late fitness test. With Cameroon superstar Samuel Eto'o settling for limb loosening and tactical debates and Ghana midfield dynamo Michael Essien a long-term casualty, Ivorian star Didier Drogba and Asamoah Gyan of Ghana will be the main African attractions.

New faces seek to shine
Others like Ghana goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey and midfielder Albert Adomah know that friendlies can be a springboard to international success and the same applies to Nigerian attacker Emmanuel Ekpo. Born and based in Norway, Kwarasey has been cleared to play for the birthplace of his father after a three-year wait and is set to challenge club-less Richard Kingson for a place in the Black Stars starting line-up. Adomah is a star with second-level Bristol City and says opting for Ghana over his native England is "the right thing to do because my parents and most of my family come from there".

Nigeria coach Samson Siasia is under pressure as the Super Eagles trail Guinea by three points in a Cup of Nations pool with just two rounds left and only the table toppers guaranteed qualification for the finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. He has chosen striker Emmanuel Emenike, released without charge after being held during a recent Turkish match-fixing probe, and offered the chance of a first cap to United States-based midfielder Ekpo.

"Emmanuel Ekpo is an offensive footballer and that is what I am looking for to balance our midfield. He passes well, creates and scores goals and plays regularly for his Major League Soccer club," said Siasia.

Senegalese hopes of getting France-born Mbaye Niang to play for the nation where his parents were born have been dashed with the 16-year-old admitting "it was a difficult choice because I am attached to both countries".

Mali visit Tunisia without their best known stars as Paris Saint Germain recruit Mohamed Sissoko wants to concentrate on club football, Mahamadou Diarra is suspended and coach Alain Giresse says Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita rejected a call-up.