Race on to be ready for Angola 2010
With a handful of teams set to book their place at the 2010 African Cup of Nations this weekend, the preparations of hosts Angola are coming under ever greater scrutiny.
Just four months remain before one of the continent's most eagerly-awaited Nations Cups kick off, with global scrutiny set to hit record levels as Africa's first World Cup comes within reach.
Yet unlike World Cup hosts South Africa, whose stated ambition is to have all their stadiums ready nearly six months in advance, Angola is cutting it much finer.
Three of the four venues - namely, Cabinda, Benguela and Lubango - are due to be completed by the end of October, but there is still much to be done at the flagship stadium in the capital Luanda. "In Cabinda, Benguela and Lubango, the construction is finished, the grass has been seeded and they're now putting the chairs in the stands," says local journalist Silvio Capuepue. "The Luanda stadium should start with the grass and chairs by the middle of September, which will hopefully give us a month-and-a-half for the pitch to grow as the stadium needs to be handed over on 31 October."
In order to meet this deadline, construction employees, many of whom hail from China, are working through the night so that the stadium can be ready on time.
With Africa's five World Cup finalists and 15 Nations Cup qualifiers set to be determined by November 15, the draw for Angola 2010 follows five days later in Luanda. Those arriving in the capital for the ceremony should have few problems, although any trips to Benguela and Lubango would be more complicated.
That's because the cities' new airports will not be completed until December, just weeks before the 27th edition of one of the world's oldest continental championships begins on 10 January.
"The arrivals terminal will be complete by December in both cities, meaning that in January the influx of passengers will be secure in those two provinces," Capuepue adds. "In truth, we will not have any hassles with the influx of passengers in any of the four provinces because Luanda is fine, Cabinda airport has big capacity while both Benguela and Lubango had to construct new terminals because they were really small. That was always going to be a challenge ahead of hosting the Nations Cup."
In fact, just managing to host the tournament seven years after the end of a 27-year civil war which decimated Angola's infrastructure will be a feat in itself.
And in a novel bid to promote their hosting, Angolan organisers have taken the unprecedented step of advertising on the side of a Formula 1 race car. At the Valencia Grand Prix on 23 August, Toyota-Williams drivers Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima drove with the 2010 Nations Cup logo on their rear wing for the first time.
The move came about after Nations Cup organisers effectively door-stepped team principal Frank Williams while he was delivering a public address in Angola. "An important event for Africa and Angola, Williams is proud to be able to support and promote Angola's football tournament by running the campaign's branding on the team's race cars for the rest of the season," announced Adam Parr, Williams F1's CEO.
The final countdown to Africa's 2010 qualifying groups gets underway this weekend as nations contest the fourth of six rounds of matches.
Group B could well provide an early qualifier for Angola 2010, for whoever wins the table-topping clash between Nigeria and leaders Tunisia in Abuja can book their tickets if Mozambique lose at home to Kenya.
In Group C, Algeria will reach their first Nations Cup since 2004 should they beat Zambia's Chipolopolo in Blida and Rwanda lose at home to reigning African champions Egypt. Meanwhile, the hosts of the last Nations Cup, Ghana, have the easiest and best chance of reaching Angola, needing just a draw at home to bottom side Sudan to qualify from Group D.
The Black Stars are one of only two sides to boast 100% records after three games, the other side being Group E leaders Ivory Coast. The Elephants will be assured of their Nations Cup berth with a draw at home to Burkina Faso's Stallions, whatever may happen in the Conakry clash between Guinea and pointless Malawi.
Yet however much it means to these African sides to contest Angola 2010, there can be no doubt that the greatest prize lies with securing a World Cup berth. And should results in Group D go their way this weekend, Ghana's Black Stars can become the first African side to join hosts South Africa at next year's World Cup.