Fourteen of the 16 teams, who reached next year’s African Cup of Nations, will start their final preparations this week in far-flung friendly internationals across three continents, stretching from the United States to Portugal and South Africa.
Defending champion, Zambia, is in Johannesburg to play next year’s tournament host, South Africa at FNB Stadium, formerly Soccer City, with both hoping they will be returning to the 2010 World Cup final venue for the last game of the African Cup next February.
Cote d’Ivoire, the continent’s top-ranked team and perennial favorite for the title, is away to Austria in Wednesday‘s matches, while Ghana plays first-time finalist, Cape Verde, in Lisbon.
Nigeria faces Venezuela in Miami without Chelsea pair, Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel, but Newcastle striker, Shola Ameobi, is set for a long-awaited international debut.
Ghana also will be missing a key foreign-based player with captain Asamoah Gyan granted leave to be with family after his mother died following a road accident at home in Accra.
South Africa, which missed out on the last two Cup of Nations, has to permanently adjust to life without Everton midfielder and former captain, Steven Pienaar, after his surprise retirement from internationals.
The North African trio of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria are all in action at home tomorrow. Morocco hosts fellow finalist Togo, Tunisia plays Switzerland and Algeria welcomes Bosnia-Herzegovina.
There are also Niger versus Senegal, Congo versus Burkina Faso and Angola versus Republic of Congo. Niger, Congo and Angola qualified for the competition next year.
Gabon – which hasn’t qualified for South Africa next year – hosts Portugal, although the Gabonese fans won’t get to see Real Madrid star, Cristiano Ronaldo, after he pulled out of Portugal’s traveling squad because of an eye injury sustained in Spanish league action last weekend.
Cameroon and Egypt, with 11 African titles between them, play in Europe but the former powerhouses can only look ahead to next year’s World Cup qualifiers after they were eliminated from January and February’s continental championship by minnows Cape Verde and Central African Republic respectively.