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African Nations Cup kicks off January 10

By Abu Bakarr Shaw, PV London Bureau Chief - Tuesday 29 December 2009.

All eyes will focus on Angola on January 10, 2010, when the African Cup of Nations football contest commences. This Angola competition is even more significant as Africa will be hosting the soccer World Cup for the first time in South Africa in June 2010.

Many African football stars, plying their trade in England and other parts of Europe, have already left their European clubs to join their respective national teams for this prestigious competition in Angola.

The host, the Hawks of Angola, will face the West African state of Mali in the opening match. Joining Angola and Mali in Group A are Malawi and the 2010 world Cup Qualifier, the Foxes of Algeria.

In Group B, widely considered the group of death, there are two 2010 World Cup Qualifiers, the Elephants of Ivory Coast and the Black Stars of Ghana. Others in this group are the West African states of Togo and Burkina Faso.

The 2010 World Cup Qualifier, the Super Eagles of Nigeria are drawn against the defending African champions, the Pharaohs of Egypt. Mozambique and Benin Republic make up the other places in Group C.

Group D consists of 2010 World Cup Qualifier, the Indubitable Lions of Cameroon. Gabon, Zambia and Tunisia complete this group.

The African Cup of Nations tournament is usually bad news for many football clubs in Europe as many of their top players, whose countries have qualified for the tournament, often joined their national teams thereby leaving their clubs to battle it out in their respective leagues without them. These players are expected to be away from their pay masters for over three weeks depending on how their national teams fare in the competition.

In England, for instance, many premier league clubs will be without their African stars. Chelsea will definitely miss inspirational striker Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast); midfielder Michael Essien (Ghana); striker Salomon Kalou (Ivory Coast); and midfielder John Obi Mikel (Nigeria). Manchester City will be without Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast) and Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo).

Fulham will miss defender John Pantsil (Ghana); Aston Villa will be without striker Moustapha Salifou; Arsenal will lose midfielder Alex Song (Cameroon); and defender Emmanuel Eboue (Ivory Coast). Struggling Portsmouth FC will have to battle relegation without six of their African players namely Kevin-Prince Boateng, Nadir Belhadj, Hassan Yebda, John Utaka, Kwankwo Kanu and Aruna Dindane.

In Spain, La Liga clubs will also suffer. Real Madrid and Barcelona will miss Mamadou Diarra (Mali) and Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast) respectively. In Italy, Serie A teams like Inter Milan will lose Samuel Eto (Cameroon) and midfielder Sullay Muntari (Ghana).

The sixteen African teams will play each other once in a round robin format, with the top two teams in each group progressing to the quarter finals. The 27th edition of the African Cup of Nations draw took place on November 20, 2009 in Luanda.

Photo: Ivory Coast’s Kolo Habib Toure.